Clemson Researchers' EarthBottle Made from Plants Soon will be in Stores

September 30, 2008

CLEMSON, SC – September 30, 2008 –  Environmentally friendly bottles made almost entirely from plants will soon be showing up on store shelves filled with nutraceutical products. They will be followed by pharmaceutical, functional foods and body-care products.

src=img/EarthBottle2copy_20.jpgThe compounded resin formula behind the “EarthBottle” is the brainchild of Clemson University employees Danny Roberts, researcher and assistant vice president of Public Service and Agriculture, and David Gangemi, director of the Institute for Nutraceutical Research. These natural polymer-fiber bottles are recyclable, biodegradable, petroleum-free and stronger, lighter than glass and more durable than most other bottles.

The materials have the potential to replace plastic for automotive parts, agricultural and industrial fabrics and biomedical parts, among other applications.

The natural fibers are combined with polylactic acid, a plastic-like substance made from corn. The bottles are made by injection molding and injection blow-molding processes. Inhibitory agents rich in naturally occurring antioxidants and antimicrobial properties are added to protect the products inside the bottles.

“The concept of the EarthBottle is similar to that of the tissue scaffold used in biomedical engineering and regenerative medicine,” Gangemi said. “Both products utilize organic substances to create a ‘container,’ which is biodegradable and has the physical, chemical and antimicrobial properties needed for a specific use. Thus, the EarthBottle protects contents from spoilage and the scaffold provides an environment to encourage cells and tissue to regenerate. Neither product has a need for or dependency on petroleum or hydrocarbon sources.“

The EarthBottle application and technology licensing efforts were developed in collaboration with Gaia Herbs Inc., a certified organic grower and manufacturer of botanical dietary supplements based in Brevard, N.C. Gaia is launching its ChiaFresh line of antioxidant chia fiber products in EarthBottles at ExpoEast in Boston in mid-October. Gaia Herbs is the research sponsor and co-developer of EarthBottles with Roberts and Gangemi.

“We are excited about the possibilities of this product,” said John Kelly, vice president of Public Service and Agriculture at Clemson University. “The researchers have demonstrated how creativity at Clemson University results in meeting environmental and marketplace challenges.”

Earth Renewable Technologies, a company formed by Roberts, Gangemi and Gaia, has acquired the commercial license from the Clemson University Research Foundation for the EarthBottle application. Patents are pending in the United States and in the European Union, China and Brazil, among other countries. Earth Renewable Technologies’ general manager is Greg Cumberford, an executive vice president at Gaia.

The bottles will save Gaia Herbs considerably in annual shipping costs. They weigh about 20 grams each, compared to 115 grams each for the glass bottles the company now uses. Gaia ships more than 1.5 million bottles a year.

“We are tremendously excited to bring the EarthBottle platform to the natural products industry at a time when our nation’s dependence on foreign oil and consumer health concerns about harmful chemistry in petroleum plastic packaging are cresting,” Cumberford said. “EarthBottles show what one small company committed to responsible and sustainable packaging can do to positively influence an entire industry.”

“The renewable products industry is growing over 30 percent per year,” said Bill Grass of Green Energy Consultants in Charleston. “The development and commercialization of the first to market, 100 percent all-natural, biodegradable ‘bio-plastic’ bottle approximating or exceeding the performance characteristics of petroleum-based plastics have set the new benchmark for what is possible and practical. The EarthBottle is a great example of a leading university working with industry to create customer-driven products that not only make good business sense but are good for our environment.”

Alpha Packaging Co. in St. Louis is producing the first batch of the bottles for Gaia Herbs.

“We believe that the EarthBottle will become part of the ‘green movement’ — a part of which is intended to rid our dependency on petroleum by 2025 — and will play a major role in eliminating plastics and the non-biodegradable garbage which pollute our environment,” Gangemi  said.

“It has taken me five years from the original concept to final development of the EarthBottle,” Roberts said. “During those years I have had failures as well as successes. However, my persistence and tenacity have rewarded me with success. I have a quote from the 17th Century German author Goethe on my desk that has fostered my persistence and tenacity. It says, ‘Whatever, you can do, or dream, you can begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’ I like to think I have those qualities.”

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