Journal article Open Access
Blaithín McAdam; Margaret Brennan Fournet; Paul McDonald; Marija Mojicevic
Plastic pollution is fueling the grave environmental threats currently facing humans, the animal kingdom, and the planet. The pursuit of renewable resourced biodegradable materials commenced in the 1970s with the need for carbon neutral fully sustainable products driving important progress in recent years. The development of bioplastic materials is highlighted as imperative to the solutions to our global environment challenges and to the restoration of the wellbeing of our planet. Bio-based plastics are becoming increasingly sustainable and are expected to substitute fossil-based plastics. Bioplastics currently include both, nondegradable and biodegradable compositions, depending on factors including the origins of production and post-use management and conditions. Among the most promising materials being developed and evaluated is polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), a microbial bioprocessed polyester belonging to the polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) family. This biocompatible and non-toxic polymer is biosynthesized and accumulated by a number of specialized bacterial strains. The favorable mechanical properties and amenability to biodegradation when exposed to certain active biological environments, earmark PHB as a high potential replacement for petrochemical based polymers such as ubiquitous high density polyethylene (HDPE). To date, high production costs, minimal yields, production technology complexities, and difficulties relating to downstream processing are limiting factors for its progression and expansion in the marketplace. This review examines the chemical, mechanical, thermal, and crystalline characteristics of PHB, as well as various fermentation processing factors which influence the properties of PHB materials.