Origin / production of PLAOrigin / production of PLA

Origin / production of PLA

A sustainable option?

Polylactic acid (PLA) is mainly produced from sugar in corn starch and is thus produced from a renewable source contrary to petro-based plastics such as ABS. PLA can also be made from other plants rich in starch such as beets, sugar cane and potatoes. The economy of growing corn in the United States, due to the country's generous corn subsidies, makes it so favorable that the majority of all PLA is produced from corn starch from the United States. The corn grown for industrial purposes is called field corn and is different from sweet corn used for livestock feed and foodstuffs. Currently, about 40% of the agricultural land is used for production of feed to livestock. Thus, if demand for bioplastics increase, field corn will compete for land that is today used to grow food and livestock feed.

PLA in 3D printing

Additives in PLA decreases sustainability

Most 3D printing users are aware of the pros and cons of using PLA in the printing process. PLA is one of the most popular plastics in 3D printing due mainly to its ease of use and that it does not emit nearly as many particles as other materials. The material is easy to use, adheres to the print bed, and doesn't deform when running a long print. However, it is rather brittle on its own and tend to break under pressure making it less suitable for durable products. Over the years, filament manufacturers have tried to increase its strength, elasticity and usability by mixing additives, such as acrylics. There is no mention how these additives might affect the material's overall environmental impact.

Environmental impact

Biodegradable - with the right infrastructure

Although PLA is compostable and recyclable, it requires a sophisticated industrial composting facility. Most facilities today don't separate and recycle plastics. Also, mixing petro-based plastics with bioplastics poses a problem for the facility as it degrades the quality and specification of the recycled material. The plastics need to be separated before sent to a recycling center. Today, most PLA ends up in a landfill and estimates of its decomposition time range between 100 and 1,000 years. During that time the material releases methane gas (25 CO2 equivalents). The amount depends on additives and the raw material.

What are we doing?

Buy recycled materials

Today, the most sustainable option is to buy recycled materials. We are continously evaluating sources of materials and combinations to offer recycled materials that maintain its original properties enough to qualify to be used for industrial applications.

Send back waste and spools

Instead of waiting on local government to establish a supply chain for separating and collecting bioplastics and petro-based plastics, use RE-ADD! We collect waste and spools from users of our filaments and reuse it separate recycled product lines.

PLA made of Swedish cellulose

We are running a research project together with Chalmers, RISE Processum, SEKAB and Perstorp to develop an efficient process for industrial production of PLA from cellulose which would otherwise be used in thermal power station. The goal is to find a new application for one of Sweden's largest natural resources.