The aim of the partnership is to develop plant-derived ingredients that can be used to create commercial products with low environmental impact.
The organisations believe this is the first joint-development in Japan to apply environment-friendly plant-derived ingredients to both cosmetic containers and cosmetic ingredients.
Hitachi Zosen is a Japanese industrial and engineering company that operates in the environmental, energy and water sectors.
Since 1986, the corporation has been developing the plant-based polymer, dubbed Eucommia Elastomer, as a new functional material for a variety of applications.
Its partnership with Pola Orbis’ chemical division, Pola Chemical Industries, is its latest collaboration around the biopolymer.
It has previously partnered with the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and the Japanese Science and Technology Agency (JST) to develop Eucommia Elastomer products.
Eucommia Elastomer is a trans-polyisoprene biopolymer, with a molecular weight of over 1 million Dalton and has previously been used as a material filament for 3D printers as well as golf balls.
While the collaborative project is still in its early days, a Pola Orbis spokesperson said the company is optimistic about the venture.
“We think the material has a high potential as both eco-packaging material and a cosmetic ingredient,” she said.
The giving tree
Eucommia Elastomer is extracted and refined from fruits of Eucommia ulmoides, commonly known as the Tochu tree. It is native to China and extensively cultivated for its use in traditional Chinese medicine.
According to the spokesperson, the tree’s leaf, pericarp, bark contain abundant high-molecular-weight trans-polyisoprene rubbers.
As a biopolymer it is highly flexible, impact-resistant and water repellent.
As such, it can potentially strengthen the impact resistance of biodegradable plant-derived plastics which can be quite fragile compared to conventional plastics.
However, combining biodegradable plant-derived plastic with 5% of Eucommia Elastomer can increase its impact resistance about 2.4 times.
Additionally, the waterproofing function of Eucommia Elastomer is comparable to that of high-density polyethylene.
With these features, the firms believe they would be able to produce biodegradable containers that can rival conventional plastic ones.
Due to its high flexibility, the organisations believe the biopolymer will be able to be utilised in cosmetics to achieve high sensoriality and give a pleasant feeling on the skin.
By introducing the use of plant-derived materials through this joint development, the companies aim to support sustainable societies while reducing its environmental impact.
This material would address environmental issues, such as CO2 emissions and plastic pollution, falling in line with the Sustainable Development Goals proposed by the United Nations in 2015.
The spokesperson emphasised that the raw material is harvested ethically with little impact on the environment.
“Basically, we do not cut down the trees. We only use its fruits to get the raw material, which can be harvested every year without weakening the tree,” she said.