Racecars made of vegetables. Mobile phones made out of recycled plastic bottles. What’s next, a printer made out of corn starch? Well, actually, we came pretty close to that. Back in 2000 HP was experimenting with “material innovation” and knocked up around 100 prototypes all made from a “bio-resin” created using corn starch.
“It is actually made out of corn starch. I’m not saying you can eat it, but it is a bit like a taco,” said Bruno Zago, UK and Ireland environmental manager at HP.
“But at the end of the day it’s about looking at what can we do with materials and it’s important for us to understand that plastic will end one day – because plastic is petroleum based, and petroleum will end.”
“Bio-resins have been on HP’s radar since 2000 when we built the corn printer,” confirmed Dean Miller, program lead for worldwide inkjet supplies recycling at HP.
“We don’t think today that there are bio-resins that meet our requirements and we’re not certain yet that the bio-resins are as good a solution as finding good technical nutrient cycles like we’re doing with our recycling system using closed-loop materials.”
Zago said the idea of using bio-resins led to the question of whether that process has a bigger or lesser impact than a petroleum based plastic?
“We’ve done some work around that as well and the truth is that it’s similar, there isn’t a huge difference,” Zago said.
“Corn requires fertilisers and they take a lot of energy to manufacture. It requires irrigation and that’s probably the biggest piece. So when you look at the environmental impact of growing corn to create a printer it’s quite huge.”
“Then you get into the social issues as well, where people say, ‘You’re starting to grow crops to make bio-fuels and bio-plastics, you’re starting to impact upon food.’ So there are a few issues there and currently we’ve not taken bio-plastics any further.”
However, Miller says bio-resins could still play a part in HP’s manufacturing process one day.
“We continue to look at them and investigate them and we’re working with a number of bio-resin suppliers to tell them what our needs are so that they can move the material in directions that would be possible for us,” said Miller.