Researchers at Queen's University Belfast are pioneering a new technique for the use of banana plants in the production of plastic products.
The Polymer Processing Research Centre at Queen's is taking part in a €1 million study known as the Badana project. The project will develop new procedures to incorporate by-products from banana plantations in the Canary Islands into the production of rotationally moulded plastics. In addition to the environmental benefits, the project will increase the profitability of the plantation owners and help job security for those working in the area.
Mark Kearns, Rotational Moulding Manager at the Polymer Processing Research Centre in Queen's School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, said: "Almost 20 per cent of the bananas consumed in Europe are produced in the Canary Islands, with around 10 million banana plants grown annually in Gran Canaria alone.
"Once the fruit has been harvested, the rest of the banana plant goes to waste. An estimated 25,000 tonnes of this natural fibre is dumped in ravines around the Canaries every year.
"The Badana project aims to find a use for these plants. The natural fibres contained within them may be used in the production of rotationally moulded plastics, which are used to make everyday items such as, oil tanks, wheelie bins, water tanks, traffic cones, plastic dolls and many types of boats. The banana plant fibres will be processed, treated and added to a mix of plastic material and sandwiched between two thin layers of pure plastic providing excellent structural properties. The project gives a whole new meaning to 'banana sandwich'.
"This new technique will have substantial environmental benefits. It will hopefully result in a substantial reduction in the amount of Polyethylene used in the rotational moulding process, ushering in a new and more sustainable era in the production of rotationally moulded plastics. The research and development of this new approach will help create jobs and the banana plantations will ultimately benefit financially from the sale of the remains of millions of harvested banana plants, which would otherwise go to waste."
"It is testament to our expertise in rotational moulding, and strong links with several Spanish Universities, that the Polymer Processing Research Centre has been asked to contribute in this groundbreaking project."
The funding for the Badana project has been provided by the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme. For more information about the Polymer Processing Research Centre at Queen's visit www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/PolymerProcessingResearchCentre/
Notes to Editors:
1. Mark Kearns is available for interview.
2. The Badana project involves companies in Spain, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Eastern Europe. It was developed when one of the largest banana plantations co-operative is the Canary Islands approached the local university to ask if it would be possible to do something constructive with the waste products from banana production. Queen's was asked to participate in the project because of its expertise in Rotational Moulding and strong links with a number of universities in Spain, including the University of Las Palmas and the University of Zaragoza.
3. The Polymer Processing Research Centre (PPRC) at Queen's was established in 1996.
The PPRC builds on well established expertise at Queen's in rotational moulding and polymer extrusion by extending into complementary research areas of injection moulding, blow moulding and thermoforming. A comprehensive testing and analysis facility, to service industrial requirements and support research projects forms an integral part of the Centre.
The purpose of the PPRC is to carry out leading edge, industrially exploitable, fundamental and applied research, which will demonstrably improve the competitiveness of the plastics industry.