Biodegradation Test Methods – Chemical Character and Impact

Understanding the chemical composition of your material and the potential impact of these chemical characteristics can make or break biodegradability testing performance.  Information or Pre-analysis may be key to a positive outcome.

Biodegradability testing is generally a straight-forward process.  Test products are assessed for key chemical properties relating to the carbon content of the material, and then added to the method test chambers for analysis.

Biologically speaking, consumption of the test materials by the microorganisms (AKA Biodegradation) is also relatively straight forward.  Microorganisms will automatically acquire and consume available nutrients.  Simple sugars, carbohydrates (sugar polymers), and fatty acids are the preferred nutrients, along with other common materials such as amino acids etc.  Microorganisms will perform this task rapidly, at a rate limited only by their ability to acquire and process the nutrients.

Unfortunately (from the microbial perspective), not many Consumer or Industrial products are made from such simple materials.  In the product test laboratory, we will be testing products designed for a specific purpose, with extended durability requirements that often require very complex, interrelated design and performance criteria.  Some examples of chemical characteristics that can impact biodegradation testing are listed here:

Chemical Analysis for Biodegradation

  • Water insolubility
  • Water emulsification
  • High melt temperatures
  • High transition state temperatures
  • High viscosity (thickener types)
  • Rust and corrosion resistance
  • Base polymer selection
  • Compatibility with other material types
  • Product microbial preservation

Reflected in each of these physical chemical properties is a host of technological developments that may or may not have included the need for ‘biodegradability’ as part of their intended performance parameters.

Understandably, this type of product information is commonly closely managed proprietary information.  But for the purposes of determining the biodegradation product performance, some level of understanding for these physical chemical properties can potentially mean the difference between a failed or successful biodegradation test outcome.

Unless directly involved with the product or formulation of the product, it is not possible for a laboratory to have an understanding of the chemical impact or critical insights for a given product in a selected biodegradation test without performing additional testing.

Fortunately, divulging the information is not necessary, as appropriate pre-analysis can provide a range of information that can best guide the test laboratory to recommend the most appropriate test method or methods for a given set of chemical parameters. A common pre-analysis for solubility issues is a water accommodated fraction analysis, where the sample is incubated under test conditions until fully equilibrated with the aqueous phase.

Once a biodegradation chemical impact pre-analysis is performed, a clearer recommendation can be made regarding the most appropriate biodegradation test method or test methods that aligns with the needed testing for the product and best manages the potential chemical impact of the product for a given biodegradation test method.

Contact the lab at 847-483-9950 or for more information about Biodegradability Testing.