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ARS Home » Nutrition, Food Safety/Quality » Research » Research Project #441234

Research Project: Developing Novel Food Packaging Applications Using Lignocellulosic Material

Location: Nutrition, Food Safety/Quality

Project Number: 0500-00090-001-006-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Jul 1, 2022
End Date: Jun 30, 2025

This project will focus on developing lignocellulosic materials and products for food packaging applications, primarily targeting oil and grease barrier properties as a replacement of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). Interactions with industry clearly indicate that this is a high priority area, where UMaine researchers have already been active and are positioned to lead future advances in research in this area. Fiber molded products will be made through wet molding of nanocellulose coated papers as well as rapid dry-pressing of coated blanks. Recent research at the University of Maine has demonstrated that it is possible to combine the excellent grease barrier properties of cellulose nanofibrils (CNF) and its favorable binding properties into laminated composite. A comparative life cycle assessment of developed packaging solution and end of life use will be evaluated through recycling evaluation and development of a more industrially-relevant composting method in cooperation with researchers from the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL).

This project will investigate two separate approaches (dry and wet forming) for producing novel food packaging systems. Task 1: Develop paperboard grades for three dimensional (3D) dry thermoforming The primary approaches are to 1) develop an optimal paperboard for thermoforming, and 2) monitor and model a rapid (<1 second cycle time) heated compression molding press for high draw ratio parts. Multi-ply blanks will be targeted due to their correlation with good creasability. In addition, natural anti-microbial additives and/or textures in the surface layers will be incorporated and their potential to reduce microbe proliferation and food spoilage determined. Task 2: Develop a 3D wet forming process for non-traditional lignocellulose residues This work builds upon successful demonstration of the feasibility of producing pulp-free, grease resistant and recyclable food-serving containers using wood flour bonded with cellulose nanofibrils. A 3D wet forming process will be used which incorporates non-traditional lignocellulosic with a cellulose nanofiber (CNF) binder technology for grease and water resistance. Grease barrier properties will be imparted through a thin layer of CNF or lignin containing CNF (LCNF) applied to the surface. In addition, post- surface treatment methods on formed sheets will be applied to augment grease and water resistance. The end of life characteristics of food package systems provided in Task 1 and Task 2 will be determined through recycling and compostability assessment and a comparative life cycle assessment of current PFAS paper packing. A test method will be developed in collaboration with the USDA Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) that should quickly indicate the percent of fibers recovered in a typical recycling operation and the ability to separate the fibers from the barrier layers or if the barrier layers disperse with the fibers.