Whey for packaging goods
Interview with Florian Wild, Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging
The European Union (EU) funded Project Wheylayer includes companies and organizations from the packaging, recycling and dairy industries as well as research facilities. The Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Freising, Germany, is one of the 14 project partners and from 2008 until 2011 worked on the development of a sustainable and new packaging material. Process engineer Florian Wild explains the uniqueness of this material and the current state of development.
What type of project is this and for which kinds of products is this packaging best suited?
The Wheylayer Project is aimed at developing barrier layers for multilayer films based on whey protein. Multilayer films are the base material for different food and cosmetic packaging. Thanks to the combination of different materials, packaging like this can gain especially first-rate barrier properties and can for instance protect sensitive products from the entry of aerial oxygen or water vapor. This in turn enables a long and safe shelf life of products.
What benefits does this procedure offer and what makes it so innovative?
“Wheylayer“ managed to develop a barrier layer based on a biological raw material which due to its excellent characteristics is an alternative to conventional materials of fossil origins such as EVOH (ethyl vinyl alcohol copolymer). With it and in combination with other biobased plastics, multilayer films with excellent barrier effect can be 100% produced from renewable resources.
In addition, the protein-based barrier layer can be broken down with washing enzymes in the recycling process in contrast to EVOH. The individual plastic films of the multilayer set up can then be broken down by material type and returned to use.
Using several tricks, we succeeded in making the production process efficient, thus creating a competitive product in terms of costs.
By adding softening agents and other materials you developed a coating that’s resilient. Aren’t softening agents counterproductive when it comes to “biological“ packaging?
In this case, low molecular sugar alcohols such as Glycerol or Sorbitol act as softening agents. These are materials that by themselves can be used as food additives and are therefore completely safe to use and represent no health hazard. Especially for Glycerol, a by-product of biodiesel production, Wheylayer provides an ideal usage.
Wheylayer falls under the header of ”active packaging“. What does this mean for the product that needs to be packaged?
Active packaging means packaging that results in increased shelf-life or a specific product change through chemical or biological interactions with the packaged product. As a matter of fact during the course of this project, different antioxidant and antimicrobial acting agents were being tested to give the whey layer an additional active function. Compared to the barrier effect, this goal is lower priority at the moment. Just as a result of the barrier alone, test packaging with cheese, boiled sausage or fresh pasta were already completely successful.
Wheylayer was successfully tested and showcased in October 2011 in Ljubljana to representatives of manufacturing and trade. When will the first packaging made of whey arrive on the market?
The test system in Ljubljana already has a tape speed of 20 m/s. For industrial production this speed now needs to be approximately increased by a factor of 5 by the participating industrial enterprises to make the process economical and to be able to integrate the facility into the manufacturing processes of total packaging. At the same time there are questions about in-house logistics, end product development and marketing. The preparation of the first market-ready final packaging within 24 months seems realistic.
Ingrid Spicker, InterMopro.de