Cassava (manihot esculenta) otherwise commonly known as 'tapioca', is the third most important crop in Thailand. About 18 to 20 million tonnes of cassava root are produced each year from over 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of planting area. Cassava is widely grown in Thailand because of its drought resistant properties and it can be planted on almost any type of land. In addition to being economically important, cassava is the cheapest raw material for starch production.

Starch is nature's way of storing energy. When the germ that produces a new plant begins to grow, it depends on the starch to feed it until it can establish roots and leaves and begins to gather its own energy. Starch is simply sugar (glucose) that is strung together in long chains for easy storage. Just about every leafy plant makes some starch.

As starch is not naturally water-resistant it needs to be mixed with other materials to improve its performance as packaging. A big challenge has been to offer processing characteristics as close as possible to the traditional materials that biodegradables are seeking to imitate or replace, such as oil-based plastics. Products are now available that are suitable for film blowing, casting, injection moulding and foaming.

Expanded packaging such as fast food trays have proven very practical for people who are busy and on the move. Yet Styrofoam or Polystyrene type packaging produces a very high quantity of waste because it is usually used only once. Our packaging solves this problem. Produced by thermal compression moulding, it can hold water for up to 75 minutes and liquid oil for several hours. The starch mix consists of more than 90 per cent dry weight starch, plasticizers, emulsifier, calcium carbonate and agar. The process takes no more than 3 minutes at a temperature of 200-240° Centigrade (°C) and the product is completely biodegradable.

Glossary of Terms

Agar is extracted from certain marine algae. It is insoluble in cold water but soluble in boiling water. When cooled below 40°C it forms a firm, resilient gel that melts at temperatures greater than 80°C. This difference between gelling and melting temperatures makes agar of great importance in the food industry.

Calcium Carbonate is a simple compound found in nature that occurs as a mineral found in three crystalline forms.

Emulsifier is generally any ingredient used to bind together substances that would not normally combine, such as oil and water.

Plasticizer is generally a clear, organic, liquid material that is added to a formulation to obtain a flexible soft film to enhance both processability and serviceability of the end product.

Sorbitol is an alcohol sugar that is naturally present in Mountain Ash, Hawthorn, Plum, Pear, Apple, Seaweed and Blackstrap Molasses. Sorbitol is used in the manufacture of 'natural vitamin C' (ascorbic acid). It is commonly used as a nutrient or sweetening agent.

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