VTT's fully bio-based and transparent packaging film won the New Tree competition award in the urbanisation category on 29 January in Helsinki. VTT is also involved in the biodegradable mulch project, the winner of its own category. The goal of the New Tree competition, launched in the autumn of 2014, was to find the best solutions for exploiting wood-based materials.
The brains behind VTT's nut bio-based, transparent packaging were Senior Scientist Jari Vartiainen, Key Account Manager Jouni Lattu and Research Professor Ali Harlin. The competition entry was a pouch for nuts made of bio-based packaging film.
Each layer of the three-layer film, produced from fully renewable raw materials, has a specific function. The thin middle layer is made from cellulose nanofibrils (CNF), which are ground from traditional Finnish birch pulp. It is highly impermeable to gases, particularly oxygen. This is necessary when packaging fatty foods, which oxidise easily. In addition, protective gases such as nitrogen can be fed into the package to prevent oxidisation even more effectively.
The inner and outer layers are made from Brazilian sugar cane, through fermentation and polymerisation into biopolyethylene. They make the packaging resistant to moisture. This is essential when packaging dry food products. The inner layer also enables the packaging to be sealed tightly through heat sealing. Compared to ordinary fibre-based packaging and paperboard cups and trays, the three-layer material is a fully transparent film.
"This is an excellent example of VTT's role in applied research, which ultimately aims at industrial upscaling," remarks VTT's Key Account Manager Jouni Lattu.
Financial potential and wider social significance
The flexible packaging material market was worth nearly 74 billion US dollars in 2012, and is estimated to grow over 5 per cent per year. Growth is fastest in the use of cellulose-based packaging materials. They are forecast to grow over 8 per cent every year for the next five years.
Daily life becomes easier, less food is wasted and fewer natural resources are used when nuts, dried fruit and other everyday snacks can be packaged using a natural alternative based on birch and sugar cane fibre. Brands can use their packaging to stand out from the competition, and informed consumers can choose a product that promotes sustainable development.
VTT also involved in other award-winning projects
In the category of scarcity of resources, the winner was a biodegradable mulch film jointly developed by Stora Enso, MTT Agrifood Research Finland, VTT and the University of Helsinki. The mulch is paper made from renewable raw materials. Being fully biodegradable, it significantly reduces the environmental load from agriculture. Biodegradable mulch facilitates water management and prevents the growth of couch grass and other weeds. Paper mulch is better than a plastic one even in terms of plant gas metabolism. Senior Scientist Antti Korpela from VTT has been involved in this project. The development of the paper mulch into a commercial product will continue at VTT.
The winner of the conscious consumption category and the overall winner of the New Tree competition was a textile fibre fabric made from birch cellulose. The manufacturing method for the textile fibre was developed in the FIBIC (Finnish Bioeconomy Cluster) FuBio Cellulose programme and is ecological, safe and simple. Ioncell, a new kind of textile fibre obtained from wood pulp/cellulose, is also of a very high quality. Its tensile stress and abrasion properties have been shown to be excellent: the fibre produced is stronger than that of cotton and viscose. The programme manager for the FuBio Cellulose programme is Principal Scientist Anna Suurnäkki from VTT.