Fujitsu is offering a laptop with a biodegradable chassis made out of plastic derived from cornstarch.
Traditional plastics are manufactured from non-renewable resources such as oil, coal and natural gas. Biodegradable plastics, on the other hand, are made with plant-based materials and have been available for many years. But due to their high cost, they have never replaced traditional plastics in the computer market.
The biodegradable Fujitsu LifeBook is only available in Japan at the moment, according to media reports. The cornstarch-based plastic is more expensive than conventional plastic, but it is claimed to result in 15% less carbon dioxide emissions.
Starch is a natural polymer and carbohydrate produced by plants during photosynthesis. Cereal plants and tubers often contain a large quantity of starch, which can be processed into a “bioplastic”.
However, as it is soluble in water, items made from starch can swell and deform when exposed to moisture. But this can be overcome by modifying the starch into a different polymer.
For example, when the starch is harvested from corn, potatoes or wheat, a micro organism transforms it into lactic acid, which is then chemically treated to cause the molecules of lactic acid to link up into long chains or polymers, which bond together to form a plastic called polylactide (PLA).
PLA has been commercially available since 1990 and is used for items such as plant pots and disposable nappies, as well as medical implants. However, PLA is said to be significantly more expensive than conventional plastics and has therefore failed to gain widespread acceptance. Fujitsu has already used the cornstarch plastic on cellphones and point-of-sale terminals, and the thinking is that the chassis, when disposed of in a landfill, will decompose in months, unlike conventional plastic which takes decades.