The many advantages of polylactic acid make it an attractive choice over other bio plastics. These vary from those touching on the environment to those that involve its behavior when subjected to heat. This article explains 5 key polylactic acid advantages, and what they would mean for your project.
Is Polylactic Acid Safe?
It is! Produced entirely from natural raw materials, polylactic acid plastic is safe to use, non-toxic and compostable at the end of its useful life. As a result, you can safely use it to package food products or even as agricultural mulch and seed propagation trays.
In medical applications, PLA resin is used to produce all kinds of surgical implants, from stents to bone screw and sutures. In the recent times, also, there has been research into the use of PLA-based drug delivery encapsulations that are microscopic and injectable.
The safety of polylactic acid includes that of humans and other organisms; in addition to being non-toxic to the human body, it also doesn’t harm the environment, which makes it one of the most eco-friendly plastics today.
Polylactic Acid Advantages
The advantages of polylactic acid include those following: it requires less energy to produce, it does not harm the environment, and it has a high level of processability due to to its low Tg and melting point. Others include its being non-toxic, as well as the versatility that makes it usable in many different industries.
1. Polylactic Acid Production
Although complex, the production of polylactic acid involves the use of natural and renewable materials such as corn starch. In comparison to the manufacturer of petroleum-based plastics, this makes it a sustainable source of polymer.
And while the synthesis of PLA from food materials has been a subject for debate, it must be noted that these are not the only raw materials. Today, you can produce polylactic acid from almost anything that can produce fermentable sugars, including agricultural waste or biomass.
The PLA manufacturing process, in addition to using renewable materials, requires much less energy than that of traditional plastics. That means cost savings, in addition to reducing the carbon footprint, especially when the energy source is a fossil fuel.
2. Polylactic Acid Environmental Impact
During use, PLA presents an eco-friendly material that does not present a danger to the environment, which makes it an attractive option where plastics are being used. That’s not all: At the end of its life, polylactic acid can be composted into natural and compounds. And if burned instead, it produces no harmful fumes.
Note that, despite it being compostable, the degradation of polylactic acid requires the right conditions before the plastic can break down. These may not be readily available to the average user. That’s being said, other ways to dispose of PLA materials still apply, including sorting and taking it to a composting facility.
3. Polylactic Acid Melting Point
The material has a low melting point. While this is one of the advantages of polylactic acid, it also has its downsides. To begin with, it means a plastic that’s highly usable and versatile. For example, it makes PLA an attractive option for 3D printing filament: you get to easily melt the material for extrusion at the printing head.
The low melting point of polylactic acid also increases its processability in other manufacturing processes such as thermoforming, extrution, and more. You can use the material to make blow molding film, for example, or any other manufacturing method.
The low melting point of PLA also explains its widespread use in producing ecofriendly shrink wrap. This is a packaging material that uses low levels of heat to wrap around items and protect them during shipping or storage.
4. Polylactic Acid Toxicity
Another of the many advantages of polylactic acid is its non-toxic nature. When used for packaging, it serves as a safe type of polymer for holding food and drinks—without leaching harmful materials. A safe material for making tea bags too, instead of traditional plastics such as polypropylene.
The non-toxic nature of PLA also makes it an excellent choice for medical implants. Being biodegradable, it’s provides a safe material for the making of drug delivery encapsulations where the active ingredient is delivered in small quantities over time.
5. Applications of Polylactic Acid
Polylactic acid applications surpass those of other bioplastics. This is because of its many benefits such as biodegrability and biocompatibility. According to figures from this source, PLA was the most manufactured type of bioplastic by the year 2021.
The report further identifies the packaging industry to the biggest market for PLA, followed by textiles. Others include agriculture where it’s used to make biodegradable mulch film and in fertilizer and in consumer goods for plastic parts.
In healthcare, the material is one of the most preferred for surgical implants. The many applications of polylactic acid are attributable to its many benefits, as outlined in this article.
Polylactic Acid vs. Polyethylene
While both PLA and PE are thermoplastic polymers, there exist several differences between them. Polylactic acid is a type of biodegradable plastic that results from the chemical or microbial fermentation of natural feedstock. Polyethylene, on the other hand, is derived from petroleum-based materials.
The advantages of polylactic acid plastic over polyethylene include eco-friendliness and biocompatibility. However PE possesses a higher impact strength and melting point, and is often used in applications that involve higher heat levels of mechanical stress.
Overall, each material has its best applications. For example, you may find PE being used to reinforce disposable paper cups, or as the material of choice for large packaging containers. PLA plastic finds use in many industries, either in its pure form or while mixed with other materials.
Many companies today are starting to prefer bioplastics over the traditional petroleum-based plastic. The advantages of polylactic acid outlined here make it a viable alternative in many industries, from medical and packaging to textiles and automotive. This material is also available in different forms, which adds to its versatility or usability, depending on the required material properties.