20 May 2009

Biodegradable Plastics 3 Different Ways

We are moving from a petroleum world to a biological world. Fuels, plastics, chemicals, and materials that typically are made from petroleum are now being made from biomass and garbage. Combining expertise from microbiology, genetics, chemistry, thermodynamics, nanotechnology, materials science, and other scientific and technical fields, researchers are bringing about a significant transformation of the advanced economies.

1. Mark van Loosdrecht of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands:
van Loosdrecht has been working on using bacteria to transform this waste into bioplastics known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs).

PHAs are linear polyesters produced by bacterial fermentation of sugar or lipids (fats). They are produced by the bacteria to store carbon and energy. More than 150 different monomers can be combined within this family to give materials with extremely different properties.

These plastics are biodegradable and are used in the production of bioplastics. However, the high cost of PHA production compared to conventional plastics has limited their use in a wide range of applications.

Using technology derived from wastewater treatment systems, van Loosdrecht and his lab have developed a process using open microbial cultures to convert organic wastes to PHAs.

This new process is able to produce just as much PHA as existing processes at specific rates that are up to three times faster. _TOI_via_ImpactLab

2. Richard Gross from the Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, New York
Richard Gross from the Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, New York, is using bacteria that produce a building block from vegetable oils that can be used to make a plastic that is very much like polyethylene.

However, unlike polyethylene, when it becomes waste, it can be converted by mild enzymatic methods to biodiesel fuel. _TOI_via_ImpactLab

3. Kevin O'Connor at the University College in Dublin, Ireland
O'Connor has found a way to transform traditional plastics into biodegradable plastics.

Using a process called pyrolysis, the waste plastics are heated in the absence of air, causing a breakdown of the molecular bonds.

What's left is an oil that is then fed to natural soil bacteria that use it to produce PHA. _TOI_via_ImpactLab

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