Posted on January 24, 2016

Student Ruqaiah Nasser (pictured) from Qatar University’s Materials Sciences and Technology (MATS) Master’s program has conducted an innovative research study in which biocompatible polymer is produced from protein extracted from natural resources.

The main objective of the study is to promote environmental sustainability, a key component of Qatar's national development strategies. Ruqaiah was mentored by MATS department associate professor Dr Ahmed Elzatahry and Center for Advanced Materials (CAM) research fellow Dr Mohammad Hassan. The study was conducted in collaboration with Dr Imane Belyaman and Dr Frederic Prochazka from Jean Monnet Saint Etienne University and funded by Qatar University.

The biopolymer is compatible with the environment and can be composted in gardens without harming the ecosystem. Unlike synthetic polymer, it degrades by biological processes during composting to yield carbon dioxide, water and inorganic compounds which are environmentally-safe. The major constituent of this biopolymer is sodium caseinate which gives it its unique transparency and biodegradability. The team explored the degradation process both at the macro and micro scale using technologies such as Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC), Thermalgravimetric Analysis (TGA) and Broadband Dielectric Spectroscopy.

An important phase of the project included placing samples of the biocompatible polymer films in a compost medium of controlled humidity and temperature. Positive results recorded the plastic having disappeared within 5 days of placing it in the soil. Commenting on the research, Ruqaiah said: “Participating in this project was indeed a positive experience, and by harnessing the latest technologies, we were able to study this biopolymer. The knowledge and experience I gained will add value to my future study and career goals”.

Dr Elzatahry noted that in Qatar, about 400 tons of waste is added to the Qatari landfills daily and only 50% of the plastics is recovered for recycling. “The packaging industry is using more and more bioplastics, which can offer new recovery options towards reducing CO2. In fact, biodegradable plastics offer the same qualities as conventional plastics but with even more recovery options”, he explained, adding, “the implementation of this type of polymer will significantly reduce the environmental pollution caused by synthetic polymers”.

He stated further: “The project is an important step in the direction of green plastic development and I believe that the current research will give a clear idea about the mechanism of degradation and the prospective industrial application and its findings will have a huge impact on the Qatari environment within the next two years.” Dr Ahmed also noted that students in the MATS program are also provided with opportunities to enhance their skills in communication, problem-solving, teamwork and leadership.

Dr Hassan said: “This type of degradable polymer will support plastic waste management in Qatar -- it has great potential to be used for food packaging applications. He noted that the research is aimed towards developing applications such as non-food packaging for industry”.