It may sound like a load of bull, but a Canadian researcher says he’s on track to produce plastic car parts from banned cattle parts.
David Bressler, an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science at the University of Alberta, is using the throwaway parts of beef carcasses left after bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more popularly known as Mad Cow Disease, devastated the Canadian beef industry in 2003.
The specified risk material is tissue shown to contain the infectious proteins that cause BSE.
Agriculture Canada says this includes the skull, brain, nerves attached to the brain, eyes, tonsils, spinal cord and nerves attached to the spinal cord of cattle aged 30 months or older, and a portion of the small intestine of cattle of all ages.
The byproducts are barred from any use for fear they contain the deadly proteins.
The university is approved by the Canada Food Inspection Agency to study ways to turn potentially high-risk proteins into safe, sustainable materials.
It has applied for patents on the thermal process being used to turn protein from bovine byproducts into plastics.
The proteins are broken into small pieces at high temperatures, then cross-linked to other protein molecules to create a network that forms a rigid structure.
The plastics from Bressler’s lab are being tested by The Woodbridge Group, a car-parts maker based in Mississauga, ON, Canada.
Bressler tells Ward’s that parts could be available to the auto industry in the next six to 12 months, but he expects other applications to reach the market before then.
“The (auto) parts will have to go though a regulatory process of being tested and certified,” he says.
Bressler has worked with industry, government and other researchers to forge the cattle proteins into heavy-duty plastics.
By finding a way to convert the animal byproducts into plastics for industrial use, Bressler and his team hope to divert tons of protein waste from landfills across North America and shift to making plastics with renewable resources instead of petrochemicals.
Bressler says in a statement he believes bio-friendly plastics, though still in the development stage, are poised to become an innovative addition to the manufacturing industry.
“The plastic industry is under pressure to increase the renewable content in its products,” he says.
“As a result, this project offers the opportunity to do just that.”