From Petroleum to Bioplastics

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TU Graz researcher Samir Kopacic wants to help ensure that less plastic and more biodegradable materials are used in the future. And develops its own, paper-based packaging.

Samir Kopacic is working on biodegradable foils and films that can be used to coat paper packaging.
“We currently have almost 8 billion people on our planet. If we continue to consume as much plastic as we are currently doing, then in the coming years we will have more and more non-biodegradable plastic waste in our environment and increasing CO 2 levels in the atmosphere, ”explains Samir Kopacic in drastic terms why he is has chosen a career in green technology with a focus on process and material development. The 31-year-old researches at the Institute for Bio-based Products and Paper Technologyhow more bio-based materials and fewer plastics can be used in the field of food packaging. “A classic example for me is the muesli packaging,” he describes. “They consist of a cardboard box and inside is a plastic bag.” The bag made of synthetic film is used as a functional gas barrier, for example to keep the cereal flakes crispy and to preserve the aroma. As an alternative, the cardboard could also be coated with a bio-based film or foil, which would have the same effect, says Kopacic.  If we continue to consume as much plastic as we currently do, we will have more and more non-biodegradable plastic waste in our environment and rising CO 2 levels in the atmosphere in the coming years .
The young researcher is working on various multi-functional biopolymers that can be applied to paper or even completely replace plastic and renewable biomass, from which valuable biopolymers can be obtained, ”is how he explains the economic and technological aspects behind his work.

The love for nature runs in the family

“From an academic point of view, I can do a lot with this topic because it is a mixture of technical chemistry and process engineering – that is, combining my two studies.” Samir Kopacic was born in Gracanica, a small town in the northeastern part of Bosnia and Herzegovina , attended the international English-language secondary school and then studied technical chemistry and process engineering at Graz University of Technology.
“I already realized in high school that my strengths lie in the natural sciences. Even then I was interested in experimental science subjects and the choice of course was easy. The question was whether I should go in the technical, medical or scientific direction, ”he looks back today. “My 3-year-old daughter feels exactly the same today – she is already very interested in plants, animals and microorganisms.”
Already in high school I realized that my strengths lie in the natural sciences.
Besides his work, he devotes his free time to his families, friends and shared hobbies. He likes to cook for his daughter and his wife – who is also a chemist at TU Graz: “Yesterday, for example, we had chicken breast with a special cheese-like filling and various herbs,” he reveals. He also spends every free minute with his family and outdoors, enjoys hiking and gives living room concerts with his daughter. “She just got a ukulele and I play the guitar. We’re not professionals, but there is potential, ”he smiles.

Heinzel-Mondi-Sappi Award for young researchers

In the future, he would like to continue to work in the technical area, develop his professional and personal skills and use them in innovative fields. “Thanks to a wide range of academic training and professional experience, I could imagine my future professional activity in both the academic and industrial sectors,” he says. “Together with project partners from industry and academia, I do a lot of applied research and am currently involved in an invention that is to be patented. Some of the results could be further developed into products in the next few years. ”The Heinzel-Mondi-Sappi Award shows that the Austrian paper and packaging industry also has a similar opinionthat the young researcher received in October 2020 for his research activities. In any case, Kopacic himself is firmly convinced “that we need a change of course in Europe with regard to plastic consumption and must rely on biomaterials in the future.”
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