Guadalajara (Mexico) .- With the juice of the cactus, a plant of the family of cacti and the basic ingredient in Mexican cuisine, a Mexican academic has created a biodegradable natural plastic that can reduce pollution.

Sandra Pascoe, from the University of Valle de Atemajac (Univa) in Guadalajara, western Mexico, developed this plastic after several experiments with this cactus so used in salads and in traditional Mexican stews.

At first, she experimented with dried pieces of nopal, which she proceeded to pulverize and mix with some additives, but the process was slow and the physical and chemical characteristics changed a lot and the material oxidized quickly, points out Efe.

Then she began to use the juice of the species “opuntia ficus indica”, the most common among nopales and widely used as a vegetable, and, recently, he took the so-called “opuntia megacantha”, which is famous for its fruit, the prickly pear, very juicy although covered with a shell with thorns.

“Basically, plastic is formed with the sugars of cactus juice, the monosaccharides and polysaccharides it contains,” confirms the researcher.

Ensures that the nopal has a very viscous consistency that comes from those sugars, pectin and organic acids and “that viscosity is what we are taking advantage of so that a solid material can be produced,” she says.

In her laboratory of he Department of Exact Sciences and Engineering, Pascoe made a mixture of juice of the decanted and fiber-free nopal with glycerin, natural waxes, proteins and dyes to create a formula that is dried in plates to obtain thin plastic sheets.

This process was registered in 2014 at the Mexican Institute of Intellectual Property (IMPI) and its development has been possible with the financing obtained from the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt) of Mexico.

The researcher states that with the support of the campus of Biological and Agricultural Sciences of the University of Guadalajara, is in the process of knowing the characteristics of degradation of this plastic, that is, under what conditions and how long it takes to decompose in a natural environment.

“We have done very simple tests of degradation in the laboratory, we have put it for example in water and we have seen that it is undone, it is necessary to do the chemical test to see if this material has been completely disintegrated, we have also done tests on moistened earth Compost type and also the material is undone, she added.

On its commercial uses, it highlights that this plastic could be used to replace supermarket bags and to create low density materials such as containers for cosmetics, bases for scientific prototypes, costume jewelery and even toys.

“When we are studying and doing the hardness and resistance tests, we have realized that it can be a material that is used in different applications, that initial form that we obtain can be melted and put into molds,” he says.

The academic confirms that projects have already been done at the student level to generate prototypes “very simple and you can see that there is potential to do some other things with this material”.

For now they are in the process of performing the thermal and density tests of the plastic to know how much weight it can resist in case of being transformed into bags and other products.

The next step, she says, is to find resources to generate or buy a machine that can make the special molds and create a prototype of bags so that companies know the project and are interested in adopting it.

The innovation is in patent process. Once this is granted by the IMPI, it will be possible to generate agreements to transfer the technology to the interested companies, she assures.

This story is courtesy of  Vanguardia/Mx