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Properties, modifications and applications of biopolyesters.

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Agrotechnological Research Institute (ATO), Bornsesteeg 59, P.O. Box 17, 6700 AA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.


Poly(hydroxyalkanoates) (PHAs), of which poly(hydroxybutyrate) (PHB) is the most common, can be accumulated by a large number of bacteria as energy and carbon reserve. Due to their biodegradability and biocompatibility these optically active biopolyesters may find industrial applications. A general overview of the physical and material properties of PHAs, alongside with accomplished applications and new developments in this field is presented in this chapter. The properties of PHAs are dependent on their monomer composition and therefore it is of great interest that recent research has revealed that, in addition to PHB, a large variety of PHAs can be synthesized microbially. The monomer composition of PHAs depends on the nature of the carbon source and microorganism used. PHB is a typical highly crystalline thermoplastic whereas medium chain length PHAs are elastomers with low melting points and a relatively lower degree of crystallinity. By (chemical) modification of the PHAs, the ultimate properties of the materials can be adjusted even further, when necessary. Applications that have been developed from PHB and related materials (e.g. Biopol) can be found in very different application areas and cover packaging, hygienic, agricultural and biomedical products. Recent application developments based on medium chain length PHAs range from high solid alkyd-like paints to pressure sensitive adhesives, biodegradable cheese coatings and biodegradable rubbers. Technically, the prospects for PHAs are very promising. When the price of these materials can be further reduced, application of biopolyesters will also become economically very attractive.

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