Bioplastic developers win European Inventor Award
Monday, May 03, 2010 AwardsThe two researchers behind the Arboform “liquid wood” bioplastic this week took first place in the SME Research category of the 2010 European Inventor Award, organised by the European Patent Office and the European Commission.
Jürgen Pfitzer and Helmut Nägele, both German nationals, received the award at a ceremony in Madrid, Spain, on Wednesday this week. The judges described the Arboform material as “a breakthrough in the sustainable use of renewable resources.”
Arboform bioplastic was developed by Pfitzer and Nägele while working at the Fraunhofer ICT research organisation in Germany. It takes lignin - the rigid component in wood and a by-product of pulp and paper-making - and combines it with resins, flax and other natural fibres to create a compound that can be processed as a thermoplastic by injection moulding.
The Arboform material can be used to produce durable moulded components which can, at the end of their life, be biodegraded. It also makes use of a raw material – lignin – which would otherwise be burnt or used in low value animal feeds.
Pfitzer and Nägele established a technology spin-off company – Tecnaro, which is based at Ilsfeld in Germany – to market the Arboform resins in 1998. It now employs14 staff and last year produced 275 tonnes of Arboform and a range of other biodegradable and renewable plastic compounds.
Arboform, which costs from around €2.5/kg, has drawn considerable interest from the automotive industry for its ability to replicate the finish and feel of wood in three-dimensional parts. It has also been used to produce designer loudspeaker casings and golf tees.
The European Inventor Award was established in 2006 to recognise the achievment of outstanding inventors from across the world. Other winners at the 2010 event included:
Lifetime Achievement: Wolfgang Krätschmer of Germany for his work in production of fullerenes (a new class of carbon molecules).
Industry Category: Albert Markendorf of Switzerland and Raimund Loser of Germany for development of a new high precision 3D scanning and measuring system for industrial measurement.
Non European Category: Sanjai Kohli and Steven Chen from the US for development of some of the technologies enabling the commercialisation of low cost GPS navigation tools and Ben Wiens and Danny Epps of Canada for their activities in the electrochemical fuel cell sector.
Opportunities for commercialisation of renewably-sourced plastics will be on the agenda at the European Plastics News Renewable Plastics which takes place in July in Belgium.