Starch from corn and other crops is a major focus for new research and development in bioproducts. Global demand for starch crops is growing rapidly, especially as biofuel plants come online in North America and Europe. And biofuel is just the start when it comes to starch applications.
Industrially, starch is well established as a strengthening and finishing agent in paper and corrugated containers. New starch-based initiatives have yielded disposable starch-based eating utensils and other bioplastics, thanks to the cost-competitiveness of starch with synthetic polymers. Starch is one of the most affordable biopolymers and shows versatile processing capabilities in both film extrusion and injection molding.
Corn bioplastics are already in the industry. They're proving successful for NatureWorks LLC, which produces renewable packaging materials from corn at its plant in Blair, Nebraska. The process works by separating dextrose (starch sugar) from corn kernels, then fermenting the dextrose to make lactic acid. The lactic acid is dried and crystallized, forming polylactide (PLA) which can be used in bioplastics ranging from rigid beverage containers to thin-film wraps.
The Ontario BioAuto Council aims to place Ontario first in similar markets for bioproducts. This move will create value for starch crops in Ontario. Corn growers in the province have already responded to surging demand for starch crops by increasing corn acreage by 30 percent in 2007, to 2.1 million acres. The BioAuto Council sees this growth continuing as it strengthens ties between Ontario's agricultural sector and its developing bioproducts industry.