University research group tests oxygen barrier properties of biodegradable packaging materials

University GroupThe University of Helsinki is at the forefront of international research and doctoral education. The quality of the University’s research is reflected in the high number of Centres of Excellence, Academy Professors, Fellows and Researchers.

One of the research programmes, the Hemicellulose Research Group, is focusing on the structure and function of polysaccharides in producing plant derived hemicellulosic polymers for the development of biodegradable films and coatings.

Hemicelluloses consist of several structurally different polysaccharides that exist in the plant cell walls closely associated with cellulose. In spite of their abundance they are not yet as effectively utilised as starch and cellulose. Unlike starch they are not digested by humans which makes them an interesting raw material for the food and chemical industries.

Polysaccharides offer a sustainable alternative to synthetic plastics, which are widely used as food packaging materials. To protect the packed product from the outside environment, barrier properties as well as mechanical strength and flexibility are required. The presence of oxygen inside food packaging is associated with deterioration of the food, reducing the quality and taste of the product. Polysaccharides have shown to provide a good barrier against the permeation of oxygen.

The Hemicellulose research group have chosen Systech Illinois’ 8001 oxygen permeation analyser to test the barrier properties of polysaccharide films. This leading analytical instrument offers precision temperature, humidity and flow control providing consistent and repeatable test conditions. With a wide sample temperature range and a controllable relative humidity range it has a quick changeover from wet to dry sample runs. It has the widest measurement range in the market making it ideal for research and development permeation testing.

Kirsi Mikkonen, principal investigator, said: “We find that the Systech 8001 is a versatile oxygen permeation analyser, having a large measurement range and allowing us to adjust the RH and temperature at wide scale. The RH control is especially important with hydrophilic biopolymer-based films that we study. Additionally, the external climate cabinet included in our setup enables analysis of various shapes of packaging at controlled conditions.”