Bioplastics for Medicine: Sustainability and Quality in Harmony
Interview with Julian Lotz, Managing Director (CEO), BIOVOX GmbH
The healthcare field produces lots of medical plastic waste. The founders of Biovox know this from first-hand experience – but medical care simply could no longer exist without plastic. The idea of designing medical products with sustainability in mind is certainly not new. However, medical-grade plastic materials must meet strict regulatory requirements, often prompting the aspect of sustainability to take a back seat.
Biovox wants to solve this problem with its products. In this interview, CEO Julian Lotz describes how his company develops bioplastics that successfully meet the stringent requirements for medical-grade plastic materials and explains what differentiates Biovox products from other comparable items.
Mr. Lotz, what prompted you to develop bioplastics for the medical sector?
Julian Lotz: My co-founder Vinzenz Nienhaus developed bioplastic-based bone replacements at the Technical University Darmstadt, Germany. I used to offer advice and expertise on plastics to orthopedic device companies. Along the way, we both saw large piles of waste in the laboratories and university hospitals comprising single-use (disposable) products and tons of packaging. In the interest of quality, these were previously made from virgin fossil-based plastic. Our co-founder Carmen once did the math on this: Medical plastics generate global CO2 emissions equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from Sweden or Denmark. We can and we must change that, which is why we “launched” this segment two years ago.
What makes your plastics sustainable?
Lotz: We use different biobased polymers. Most of our compounds are 95 to 100 percent biobased. Raw polymer production is not only highly energy efficient, but PLA can also be chemically recycled in an energy-efficient manner, resulting in a quality that is suitable for medical technology application. We have a cradle-to-gate carbon footprint that is up to 80 percent lower than contributions of common fossil-based medical plastics such as PET, PE, PP, PC, and ABS. Bioplastics also have another major advantage as it pertains to waste incineration, which is still widely used in healthcare settings: the CO2 emissions don’t stem from fossil energy sources millions of years old, but were removed from the atmosphere by the plants in the last growth stage. The cycle is thus significantly shorter and fossil carbon stays where it belongs, namely buried deep underground. Compared to polyolefins such as PE and PP, we also have a lower carbon footprint per kilogram of plastic, which also reduces emissions if burned.
How do your bioplastics differ from other comparable materials?
Lotz: All our materials have been proven to be biocompatible, depending on the compound for different risk classes of medical devices. We offer systems for injection molding, film and profile extrusion. We can also provide transparent, soft types with a higher elongation at break percentage, which is important for safety concerns pertaining to packaging and medical tubing. It’s something that is not yet available on the market in a sustainable form.
The medical sector has some of the highest quality and hygiene standards. How can you meet and guarantee this level of quality?
Lotz: The raw materials for our compounds are manufactured for us for medical use and are medical grade. We develop and produce our materials under our certified ISO 13485 medical quality management system. We also perform detailed testing per ISO 10993 standard to ensure biocompatibility and thus patient safety. This industry specific quality management currently doesn’t exist anywhere else for PLA-based compounds.
What are your future plans for your products and your company?
Lotz: We have a few ideas for pharmaceutical packaging innovations. Materials that facilitate steam sterilization are an exciting option when it comes to medical devices slated for repeated use. We are currently working on a solution that focuses on the sustainability perspective. Right now, our top priority is to master the ongoing massive growth we are experiencing and to scale our production, thus ensuring our company does not inadvertently become a bottleneck to sustainability.
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