First material development

Corn starch is considered a high-quality renewable resource. It is derived from the corn crop, the world’s largest cultivated cereal crop, and can be harvested annually. (Corn kernels are soaked in hot water and sulfur dioxide to break them into protein, fiber, and starch. Next, the kernels are ground, and corn starch is extracted from the corn oil.) Corn starch consists of chains of carbon molecules forming long-chain polymers when citric acid is added—Polylactic Acid, the basic unit for producing plastics. Using corn starch as a feedstock for bioplastics is sustainable as it reduces dependence on fossil fuels.

Therefore, in the experiments before the praxis, an attempt was made to develop the first biodegradable material of the project using corn starch, vinegar, water, and glycerine as raw materials. (Glycerine, also known as glycerol, is a simple polyol compound. It is a colorless, odorless, non-toxic, viscous liquid with a sweet taste. The glycerine backbone is found in lipids called glycerides. It is commonly extracted from plants and animals and is widely used as a sweetener in foods and as a humectant in pharmaceutical formulations, among other things.) However, through repeated production, biodegradable materials made from corn starch are fast film-forming. However, it dries entirely slowly, has poor flexibility and weak availability, and oily liquid adheres to the surface. It isn’t easy to make product packaging as a biomaterial. While considering whether the material is degradable or not, the availability of the material was the priority in the project’s development. This led to a second material development.

Second material development

A new inspiration was gained through jelly making, where the jelly powder is made from collagen, sugar, flavorings, and other additives found in animal bones and connective tissues. A colorless substance forms a gel-like texture when mixed with hot water and cooled. So, a second attempt was launched using water, jelly powder, and glycerine as raw materials. After a week-long experiment, the second experiment was also declared a failure. The biodegradable material, mainly made of jelly powder, is smooth, transparent, elastic, and has specific packaging properties. However, because of the sugar content in the jelly powder, the material is sticky after drying, and it is not easy to use as product packaging because the material is prone to cracking, poor plasticity, and poor sustainability. The project did not end with failure. Through reflection and further exploration, find if there is an alternative material to jelly powder. This was a potential obstacle for the project and a breakthrough. There are also some lessons learned from the two failed developments. For example, it was possible to become more proficient in making the materials and using the proportions of the materials, which also paved the way for Confirmative Praxis.

THird material development

The selection of materials and material ratios were further investigated by exploring case studies of existing biomaterials such as tea dregs bioplastics, spirulina biomaterials, agar, and Himalayan balsam biofilms. Gelatin was identified from the case studies. The project was further developed. It was found that gelatin has the same texture as jelly powder but different properties. Gelatin is a translucent, colorless, odorless food ingredient usually derived from collagen in animal body parts. It is commonly used as a gelling agent in foods, beverages, and medicines. It requires hydration to solidify. Activated by heat, it also forms a jelly consistency when cooled. Although gelatin contains only animal protein in a single structure compared to jelly powder, this is one of its advantages. It contains no other additives and has a specific stability. Whether gelatin can replace jelly powder is worth trying. So, one of the raw materials developed for the second time was replaced by gelatin, and there was a third group of water, gelatin, and glycerine as the raw material for developing biodegradable materials. (Water is an inorganic compound. It is a transparent, tasteless, odorless, and virtually colorless chemical. Thus, all three materials are natural ingredients without mining, oil, etc. And there are no other additives. All three ingredients are edible.

By repeatedly adjusting the ratio of raw materials and many tests. In June 2023, the first of the more successful gelatin biodegradable materials was produced. It dries quickly at room temperature, has strong plasticity and flexibility, is not easy to crack, and has a smooth surface. Its thickness and flexibility can be varied with the ratio of raw materials.

The rule of proportioning raw materials is found through repeated practice in making the material. The more glycerine content, the better flexibility, and the softer the material, but not easy to shape. On the contrary, the less glycerine content makes the material relatively less flexible; it is slightly hard but more straightforward to shape and easy to use as packaging. 

The material dries in three to five days at room temperature and in about 24 hours at 40 degrees in a dryer. Although the material dries faster in the dryer, it is easily deformed. However, materials dried at room temperature can retain their shape, flexibility, etc., without external influences for more than six months.