Environment

Tequila waste combined with recycled plastic to form wood substitute

Tequila waste combined with re...
An item made from the agave bagasse/plastic composite
An item made from the agave bagasse/plastic composite
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An item made from the agave bagasse/plastic composite
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An item made from the agave bagasse/plastic composite

When the sap from plants such as sugar cane is extracted for commercial use, what's left over is a fibrous material known as bagasse. This is commonly used as biofuel, or is compressed into a wood substitute. Now, Mexican startup Plastinova is using agave bagasse from the tequila industry to make a wood-like material of its own, although it's also incorporating recycled plastic.

To make the material, the alcohol and sugar content is first removed from agave bagasse, leaving nothing but the fiber. That fiber is then dried and ground into a flour-like powder, to which a chemical agent is added – that agent allows the fiber powder to bond with waste plastics such as polypropylene and polyethylene, which make up 65 to 90 percent of the composite material.

The finished product is claimed to be stronger than natural wood, and takes the form of tablets measuring 1 m x 1.2 m x 10 cm (39 x 47 x 4 in) from which pieces can be cut as needed. Plastinova suggests that it could be made into items such as construction forms, benches, tables and chairs.

That said, the company is now looking into replacing the agave bagasse with coconut fiber, as lab tests have indicated that it should offer higher strength. Additionally, the agave bagasse can be difficult to acquire, as tequila companies usually keep it to fuel their boilers.

Source: Investigacion y Desarrollo (Spanish)

2 comments
Light_Lab
Back in the 90's, as part of a waste recycling research project, I made many composites like this with waste PP and PE (that tensile test bar photo looks so familiar i{^_^} ). We tried many different vegetable fibre sources including waste paper! Relevant to the above was Australian sugar cane bagasse which actually didn't perform all that well compared to other fibres in our research. A concern with bagasse is the lung disease bagassosis, contracted from mould growing on sugar residues in bagasse: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagassosis I imagine agave bagasse would have similar concerns. The main reasons we never had a successful product was the smell of the singed vegetable fibres and the high flammability of the product. We achieved much higher fibre percentages than discussed above. Creep under load is a major problem with low fibre percentages eg. when used for park bench beams, the beams gradually sag in service and have to be inverted periodically.
Long Island Lou
This may be great news, but the issues with possible lung disease issues as Light_Lab mentions, is key. This needs to be safe, and I hope it is thoroughly checked out.