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Research Methodology

Dr. Froylán Mario Espinoza Escalante

Reuse to reduce: Sugarcane and pineapple based biodegradable plates
Octavio Rizo Mendoza

Sandra Carolina Torres Díaz Ponce

Carlos Maldonado Flores

Óscar Enrique Viedas Salazar

Juan Ramón Becerra Tinoco

Ramiro Mares Dueñas

1. Problem Statement

Thousands of tons of garbage are thrown out day by day without the opportunity of being used again, turning them

into single use products. This problem has gone such that the amount of garbage has seized multiple cities, damaged

green areas, polluted water bodies and affected the air quality, destroying entire ecosystems.

As a matter of fact, most of companies that are responsible for this never-ending global problem are not taking any

measures to solve it. However, there are a few companies that are committed when it comes to offering not so harmful

to the environment solutions or alternatives. For example, there’s Ciel, a company that collects their used plastic

bottles and turns them into new ones, so they don’t have to keep investing in plastic. We could say this is a partial

solution because we can’t get rid of plastic that has been already produced and/or partially recycled.

Other attempts to solve this problem consist mainly of products that are made of a mixture between natural fibers and

a plastic matrix. With purpose of not using any plastic matrix, our approach is to create a distinct process in order to

develop a 100% plastic free product by using sugar cane fiber as our raw material, turning it into something useful

instead of waste of the sugar industries after the production is done. By making a product mainly with sugar cane fiber

that can substitute efficiently plastic products, we would be able to provide a product than can be both functional and

environmentally friendly.

1.1 Research aim: To develop a new alternative that is both efficient and eco-friendly enough to substitute plastic.

The following research objectives might help us to achieve the previously stated aim.

 To obtain a product whose composition consists of more than 50% of sugar cane fiber.

 To develop an efficient process for both the pre-treatment of the sugar cane fiber and manufacture of the final

product that reduces time, costs and raw materials using Experimental Design methods.

 To compare properties such as heat resistance, flexibility, fragility to the properties of commercial plastics

so we can assure the efficacy of our product.

2. Theoretical Framework

By 2020 the distribution of plastic bags and by 2021 the distribution of disposable cutlery, will be prohibited and

penalized by the Mexican Law (Olson, 2019). For this reason, the different companies whose main product is plastic

will have to offer new alternatives that are friendly with the environment to prevent a penalization. Taking into

consideration that the production and distribution of this type of products belongs to an industry that has been growing

since 1950 and that each person consumes an average of 49 kilograms per year in Mexico (Tello, 2018) in addition to

the prohibition of this products, the plastic industry finds itself on a complicated situation because the companies have

to find the way to keep their sales and growth and at the same time, obey the law.

Different options to produce biodegradable plastics were been proposed and even patents have been developed before

for these products, so many efforts have been done by researchers and scientists to substitute common products made

of plastic and to produce them with wastes of natural vegetation, such as the agave fiber, better known as bagasse.

The agave fiber is produced as a waste in the process of making the Mexican beverage known as Tequila, and scientists

have worked with some varieties of agave like Tequilana Weber or Agave Americana L. They investigated if they

could obtain fibers that could be used to obtain this kind of products. First, they separated the agave leaves in different

parts and analyzed the composition of each one.

The researchers found that the chemical composition of the agave fibers was similar to any other investigation that

has been reported at that moment: 4.85% lignin, 15.67% of hemicellulose and 68.42% of cellulose, very close to the

one’s obtained for sisal and other commercial fibers like hemp, flax or jute. They compared these results with the ones

they obtained with treated fibers, finding a reduction of the quantity of lignin because of an increase of the cellulose

composition. As well, they performed some physical tests with the fibers obtained, finding that they are resistant to

heat, have an acceptable maximum tensile and flexural strength. Although these are good results and represent a

progress to avoid using products made of plastic, every sample that was done had a little part of PE in its mixture.

Among other propositions, the one that has most of the impact is the use bagasse in the patent WO2011155814

developed by Laborde A. E. et al., where they proposed the use of oxo-degradable additives, these are basically a

combination of metallic carboxylate and an aliphatic poly-hydroxy carboxylic acid, expecting as main result a mixture

that consists of thermoplastic polymers that is used to form a binding matrix for the material in which the other

components can be dispersed. The main advantage found for the use of oxo-degradable materials is that, in the process
of the transformation of plastic, an additive is introduced that disrupts bonds of big molecules thus reducing their

strength. Eventually, these will be a source of nutrients for microorganisms who degrade plastic turning it into water,

carbon dioxide and reusable biomass. Another advantage is that this process requires oxygen therefore it does not

occur at anaerobic conditions. Finally, the degradation process can be regulated for periods between 2 and 3 years

which was considered appropriate for the requirements that users demand for a product such as plastic bags.

Similar to this patent, a study of the mechanothermal performance of a mixture of agave, a plastic matrix and different

resins (Pulido et al., 2014) was conducted. The main purpose of this study was to evaluate the properties of mixtures

that differ in composition (agave fiber and polypropylene plastic matrix) adding a resin that serves purpose of

increasing the compatibility between the polypropylene matrix and the agave fiber. Different resins were used as a

coupling agent, among them was pine rosin (natural and maleated glycerol ester form).

There were many samples that consisted only of the polypropylene matrix and agave fiber but with different

percentages 82% propylene, 64%, 50%, then, with different samples, the coupling agent was added to see what the

result would be.

This result was evaluated with mainly with different instrumental analysis tests. The interaction between the plastic

matrix and the agave fiber was seen using an infrared spectrophotometer and this interaction was improved thanks to

the coupling agents. In conclusion, the properties of the products that had agave fiber were improved by the addition

of coupling but they were further improved by the pine rosin (maleated glycol ester form) and additionally this agent

is a biodegradable one, so with this in mind we could be able to produce a biodegradable product and to improve its

properties by adding a biodegradable coupling agent and it would be feasible.

In order to reduce the time it takes for disposables to degrade it is necessary to find a crop that combines the

requirements and properties needed to achieve this task, such as strength, resistance and malleability. This is how the

idea of using sugarcane emerges. The sugar industry accounts for 0.5% of national GDP.

Considering that Mexico is the seventh place worldwide when it comes to sugarcane production, producing 145

million tons per year (FAO, 2018) this means that the sugarcane industry is one of the most representative of Mexico.

Sugarcane fields cover 670,000 hectares in Mexico. Sugar is produced in 15 states, with 51 active sugar mills. It is a

very important labor product for Mexico, since there are approximately 150,000 sugarcane growers and 100,000
seasonal cutters and the industry generates approximately 450,000 direct jobs. The main cane producing states are

Veracruz (1.9 million metric tons), San Luis Potosí and Jalisco (each 0.6 million), Oaxaca and Chiapas (each 0.3

million), and Nayarit, Tamaulipas and Morelos (each 0.2 million). (Geo-Mexico, 2013). Sugarcane brings to the table

several advantages to soil quality and fertility since it is a crop resistant to meteorological phenomena, it has

adaptability to adverse conditions, resistance to pests and diseases and even carbon dioxide fixation. Sugar production

uses only 70% of the sugarcane, after clarification, evaporation and cooking processes, thirty percent of the plant

remains without any purpose or function, this portion of the plant is called bagasse and it is only used at 0.51% of its


Different attempts to transform the sugarcane waste into an alternative for the conventional plastic that we use every

day have been conducted at a university in Colima, Mexico. This university claims that, with this project that is being

developed, they would be able to reduce the production and consumption of plastic products made out of oil and other

materials that damage the environment because the sugarcane is also incinerated therefore contributing to the pollution

caused by the production and misdisposition of plastics. Some of the bagasse is used for livestock feed, nevertheless,

bagasse has not been fully exploited. The bagasse used as livestock feed represents 15% of the total bagasse obtained

after the extraction of the sugarcane juice therefore 85% remains unused. On the other hand, in the research conducted

by (Mustapa et al., 2015), sugarcane bagasse was mixed with pineapple leaf with the purpose of fabricating disposable

plates. These raw materials were hydrolyzed and then mixed in different percentages of pineapple leaf and then, these

resulting blends were put into molds, dried and compressed to obtain said disposable plates. They evaluated the effect

of the percentage of pineapple leaf on the water absorption and heat resistance of the plates.

For this reason, the production of a bioplastic using bagasse was brought to the table, thus substituting plastic products

used daily. The mentioned procedure is mainly based on a substance that has been kept as a secret at the moment for

confidentiality purposes. However, they mention a pulp that’s obtained by drying and shredding the sugarcane

bagasse. This pulp has similar properties to the plastic made of oil. Finally, the pulp is put into molds and left to dry.

These results mean that is actually feasible to use sugarcane to produce articles environmentally friendly to finally get

rid of plastic. Also, the use of sugarcane has many advantages. For example, the improvement of soil aeration, making

the process of nutrients absorption, oxygenation and growth easier. Taking into consideration these properties, most
certainly, the proper disposition of the products might be easier to reach, and it would represent less damage for our


3. Materials and Methods

3.1 Hydrolysis of the Raw Materials

Sugarcane bagasse was washed with tap water to remove all the dirt. Pineapple Leaf waste was also used and given

the same washing treatment as the sugarcane bagasse. Then these materials were dried in a drying oven for 40 minutes

at 70°C after the washing was finished. The washed materials were mixed and hydrolyzed on different beakers on a

0.1 M NaOH solution and left for 24 hours at 100°C on a heating oven. Once the hydrolyzation was finished, the pine

leaf fiber and sugarcane bagasse were removed from the mixtures. Then the pineapple leaf was blended on a

commercial blender. The resulting blend was then mixed again in different proportions (50% and 70% weight/weight)

with sugarcane bagasse. 10 milliliters of each mixture were poured into a stainless-steel mold (small diameter 5 cm

and big diameter 6 cm) and left to dry for 12 or 24 hours in a drying oven at 120°C.

3.2 Evaluation of Water Absorption

The resulting products of the previous section 3.1 were weighed on an analytical balance before the test. Then each

sample was placed on a mold filled with distillated water for 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes passed, the samples

were left and air dried for another 30 minutes. Then the samples were weighed again to evaluate the water absorption

by calculating the percentage of weight gain of each sample.

3.3 Evaluation of Heat Resistance

The resulting products of the previous section 3.1 were left on a heating oven at 200°C and the time for the first

deformation perceived on each sample was measured.

3.4 Experimental Design

Pineapple leaf percentage (low level 50% and high level 70%) and drying time (12 hours and 24 hours) were the main

factors considered in a factorial 22 experimental design. The response variables, as mentioned before, were water

absorption and heat resistance. The experimental data was analyzed using the software STATGRAPHICS Centurion

4. Results

The results of the previous sections 3.2 and 3.3 are presented in the Chart 1.:


50 12 39.3 45

50 12 37.5 39

50 24 42.7 28

50 24 41.8 25

70 12 34.9 37

70 12 35.3 41

70 24 37.2 22

70 24 37.9 19

Chart 1. Results of the Experimentation

These results were analyzed using STATGRAPHICS as stated on the section 3.4 of this document.

4.1 Analysis of Water Absorption

According to the Effects on Water Absorption

analysis of variance
40 39.9
provided by the
Water Absorption

software, the most

influencing factor for 38

the water absorption of

the samples was drying 36.75

time and the other 36

-1.0 1.0
factors had no statistical Drying Time

significance with a Graphic 1.Effects on Water Absorption

confidence level of 95%. The percentage of water absorption tends to increase as the drying time increases according

to the Graphic 1.

The estimating equation was the following:

Water Absorption = 38.325 + 1.575*Drying Time Ec. 1

In order to minimize water absorption, both factors must be on the low level according to STATGRAPICHS.

4.2 Analysis of Heat Resistance

According to the analysis

Effects on Heat Resistance
provided by the software,

the most influencing factor 41 40.5

was, again, drying time
Heat Resistance

and other factors had no
statistical significance with
a 95% confidence level.
The effect of the heat
resistance can be described -1.0 1.0
Drying Time
with the Graphic 2.
Graphic 2. Effects on Heat Resistance

The estimating equation

was the following:

Heat Resistance = 32.0 - 8.5*Drying Time Ec. 2

In order to maximize heat resistance, both factors must be on the low level according to STATGRAPHICS.
5. Discussion

We could see with the results on the section 4 the samples with more drying time tend to absorb more water and to

deform faster than those with less drying time. The results for water absorption were relatively close which led us to

believe that there was no difference between the samples with 70% and 50% pineapple leaf; on the other hand, we

could see that drying time had the most influence on the response. This was then confirmed with help of the software:

the only factor that had significance was the drying time for both response variables. With help of the software we

found that the best treatment for our product was when the ratio of pineapple was the lowest and the drying time the

lowest. The lowest value for water absorption was 36.75% and the highest time for heat resistance was 40.5 seconds

according to the best treatment proposed by STATGRAPHICS.

6. Conclusions

It has been confirmed that the change in the ratio of pineapple leaf and sugarcane had little impact in our product’s

water absorption. In the other hand, we consider that a 50% composition of pineapple leaf is the best alternative to use

the higher quantity of sugarcane in the manufacture of the product. As well, drying for only 12 hours would help us

to reduce the percentage of water absorption and to lower our costs. Due to our products capacities we could offer an

alternative efficient enough to compete with other non-biodegradable products in the market. The impact of plastic

products in the environment might be reduced by taking this product to a bigger scale in order to increase our life

quality, making plastic no longer needed nor produced.


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