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Tuesday, 01 February 2022 12:09

Natural alternatives to microplastics developed for seed coating industry

A Cambridge University spin-out company, Xampla, and chemical multinational Croda have formed an alliance that will bring natural replacements for microplastics to the seed coating industry through a £640,000 project trial of plastic-free seed coatings, backed by the UK government and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB).

Seed coatings are used in agriculture to protect seeds from pests and diseases and increase germination, helping increase crop yield with minimal use of additional plant protection products. However, some seed coatings rely on petroleum-derived polymers, which are not fully degradable in agricultural soils. This trial will see the development of next generation microplastic-free seed coatings that are fully biodegradable.

croda xampla seed coatings 1Through its Seed Enhancement specialists Incotec, Croda has already rolled out microplastic-free replacements for traditional seed coatings, including sunflower, corn, and vegetable seeds. But their partnership with Xampla now paves the way for completely natural, coatings that leave no residue and disappear without trace as seeds grow.

Xampla's Supramolecular Engineered Protein has been developed over the past 15 years. Xampla has created a plant protein material for commercial use that performs like synthetic polymers, but decomposes naturally and fully without harming the environment. Xampla is the first UK University spin-out to be awarded B Corp status.

This collaboration also takes Croda one step closer to achieving its ambition to be Land Positive, using crop science innovation to mitigate the impact of a changing climate and land degradation.

Expected to take a year to complete, the trial will also help future-proof the seed coating industry, by offering a solution which is compliant with a microplastic ban across Europe, proposed by the European Chemicals Agency, which – if adopted – will be introduced by 2027.

Chaired by Bill Clinton's White House Climate Change Adviser, Jeff Seabright, and run by tech entrepreneur Simon Hombersley, Xampla is producing a wide-range of plant protein-based products to replace conventional plastics.

Beyond the seed coating industry, their natural polymer technology can be used to replace non-recyclable thin plastic films, as a substitute for microcapsules containing scent in fabric softeners, shower gels and soaps, to encapsulate nutrients such as Vitamin D in beverages, and to replace the polluting 'soluble' wrappings used on dishwasher tablets.

Xampla Chief Executive Simon Hombersley said: "Working with Croda International is an enormous opportunity to show how we can deploy our entirely natural replacement for traditional seed coatings that often contain microplastics.

"Croda has been working on this problem for some years, seeking to reduce the impact of microplastic on agricultural soils, and not without success. It is by working with big hitters of this kind that we can really move the market and bring about change quickly."

Erik-Jan Bartels, Managing Director of the Incotec Seed Enhancement business at Croda International plc added, "Microplastics in agriculture in total account for 10% of the world's microplastics problem, and within that seed coatings account for 1% but that makes it no less important to change the industry, as we have been doing now for some time.

"Seed coatings are a high-growth part of our business and we are determined that growth should come from sustainable, plant-based alternatives."