Fraunhofer ISC Scientist Awarded in Davos with New Plastics Economy Prize for bioORMOCER®s

Press Release /

Prize winner Dr. Sabine Amberg-Schwab
© Fraunhofer ISC
Prize winner Dr. Sabine Amberg-Schwab
Compostable barrier films made of prize winning bioORMOCER®s  will contribute to reduce plastic waste
© Fraunhofer ISC
Compostable barrier films made of prize winning bioORMOCER®s will contribute to reduce plastic waste

At this week‘s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the winners were presented of the »Circular Materials Challenge«. The prize is awarded by the New Plastics Economy Initiative, launched in 2016 by the Ellen MacArthur Foundadion, to promote new ways to counter the oceans plastics pollution. Five projects were honored with this prestigious prize and share the one million dollar prize money. Among the winning projects is the work of Dr. Sabine Amberg-Schwab, senior scientist at the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC, who developed the bioORMOCER®s. The Fraunhofer ISC, located in Würzburg, Germany, is one of the leadng R&D instititutions when it comes to sustainable materials, technologies or products that help tackle the world’s foremost challenges.

2015 saw a much acclaimed report on ocean plastics pollution in the renowned SCIENCE magazine. Two years later, in November 2017, it was Dame Ellen MacArthur, creator of a foundation under her name, who used the same magazine to point to the shocking fact that still more than 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. And this figure is even likely to double within the next twenty years. Today, only a small fraction of plastic waste is collected and recycled, and this does not only constitute a loss of valuable material but also poses a major threat to the environment. A new kind of compostable packaging based on renewable resources  – so-called biopolymers – might offer a solution. Up until now this kind of packaging lacked in tightness against water vapour, oxygen and flavours and so remained unsuitable for food products.

»The urgent problem posed by plastic waste was always on our mind here at the Fraunhofer ISC and we were striving for better solutions«, describes Dr. Sabine Amberg-Schwab, award winner of the Circular Materials Challenge 2018, her ardent motivation.She and her team have longstanding expertise in the development of barrier films on food packaging designed to improve both quality and shelf life of packaged food. These barrier coatings based on special hybrid polymers, so-called ORMOCER®s, serve to protect against water vapor or any other gas and prevent outside substances from entering the packaged food.

The team of researchers has been working on compostable solutions for years in order to present a new generation of sustainable packaging materials based on biopolymers. »Our bioORMOCER®s eliminate the shortcomings of biopolymers and render them fit to serve as a reliable packaging material«, explains Amberg-Schwab. They protect the packaged food and at the same time guarantee that the packaging material does not begin to degrade ahead of time.

This invention was chosen by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to receive an award. Professor Gerhard Sextl, Director of the Fraunhofer ISC, is proud of his team: »The sustainable use of resources is imperative to all our research. We are very happy that one of our teams was honored with this innovation price, and it is rewarding to know that our work will contribute to reduce environmental pollution with packaging waste.«

Presently, Amberg-Schwab and her team are joining forces with co-researchers of the Fraunhofer Project Group Materials Recycling and Resource Strategies IWKS to derive bioORMOCER®s from waste biomass and food processing by-products so that their production will not end up to be in competition with food production or use up high-quality agricultural commoditities. The project »HyperBioCoat« brought together an unparalleled consortium of partnering companies and institutions on a European level and receives funding from the European Union. 

Read more about the New Plastics Economy Innovation Prizeand the winners of the New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize



The project “High performance biomass extracted functional hybrid polymer coatings for food, cosmetic and medical device packaging” is a joint undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme with Project ID 720736. Project coordinator is Dr. Stefan Hanstein from the Fraunhofer Project Group Materials Recycling and Resource Strategies IWKS.

For more information on the project go to EU-Project HyperBioCoat

What's in store for bioORMOCER®s?

The team of Fraunhofer researchers has a clear vision about how to proceed with further development work. Prior to a wide-scale product launch of this new packaging material it has to be seen that it fits into established processes of industrial recycling where it will end up as waste. For this reason, the Fraunhofer Project Group Materials Recycling and Resource Strategies IWKS, part of the Fraunhofer ISC, will investigate the suitability of the coated packaging materials for industrial recycling and develop optimization options, if necessary. Such optimization could be then automatic identification of coated packaging, for example, or the separation of multi-layered packaging films into individual fractions by biological or other resource efficient means.

In the collaborative project HyperBioCoat, launched in the fall of 2016, research and industry partners came together to make bioORMOCER®s even more sustainable by finding ways to produce them from food processing by-products or waste as starting materials for different types of packaging. The underlying idea in choosing this kind of raw material over valuable agricultural products is to prevent competition with food and animal feed production. As project leader Dr. Stefan Hanstein points out, it is not enough to have renewable raw materials at the beginning of the materials cycle but to strive to overcome a one-time use by enabling the recovery of as many components as possible for re-use.

The first step on the road to a truly compostable plastic packaging is targeting the future market: The New Plastics Innovation Prize recently awarded to the bioORMOCER®s by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation includes substantial support of the Fraunhofer team in their preparation for the product launch, e.g. by promoting contact with interested manufacturers in the packaging industry, the food industry and in recycling to foster the implementation of the bioORMOCER® concept.

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