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Researchers Take Wraps off Biodegradable Wax Paper

Petroleum-based wax paper, watch out: there's a slick new game in town, and it could be better for the environment. Researchers have developed a way to make an eco-friendly bio-based version of the kitchen and food-industry staple.

USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have developed an inexpensive way to use a plentiful corn protein called zein to make a biodegradable coating as a replacement for wax on paper. This technique is expected to be a boon to the food industry, which is a major user of wax packaging material.

According to the ARS, scientists with the Engineering Science Research Unit at its Eastern Regional Research Center were looking for ways to reduce the cost of producing ethanol from corn when they isolated a zein-lipid mixture. The researchers found this mixture can easily be applied to paper and has good grease resistance and water barrier properties.

Zein is found in the corn kernel but unlike other corn proteins that dissolve in water, zein repels water, making it an ideal coating for packaging materials. Corn contains about 7% to 10% percent protein; about 50% of those proteins are zein. The estimated cost of extracting the protein-lipid mixtures from ground corn by the process developed at ERRC is about $1 to $2 per pound.

According to the ARS, the new method offers a more environmentally friendly coating than petroleum-derived wax and is made from renewable sources. It can be used on any packaging material that requires waterproofing, such as boxes for perishable fruits, vegetables, and fish.



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