Polylactic acid (PLA) is a biodegradable thermoplastic polyester that can exist in either amorphous, semi-crystalline or crystalline structures. It has gained popularity as an alternative to fossil-based plastics due its low environmental impact as it is derived from renewable resources such as corn, cassava, sugar cane or sugar beet. PLA is versatile, has good tensile strength, stiffness, and biocompatibility. Its optical properties make it suitable for applications requiring transparency or glossy finish, hence, it has been used in various applications such as packaging, disposable cutlery, textiles, and medical implants.

PLA can break down to carbon dioxide and water under specific composting conditions. Its biodegradability is one of its main advantages, compensating for the limitations it has as material. PLA has low heat resistance as its glass-transition temperature is around 60 °C, which limits it to low-temperature applications. Moreover, PLA is susceptible to hydrolysis something that compromises the material’s shelf-life and long-term stability.

Primary properties

  • Biodegradability and biocompatibility
  • Renewable feedstock
  • Mechanical and optical properties

Less optimal properties

  • Poor heat and chemical resistance
  • Processing parameters differ from those of conventional plastics (e.g. polypropylene)