Project uses enzymes and bacteria to recycle PET, PU into bioplastic

Project uses enzymes and bacteria to recycle PET, PU into bioplastic

Project uses enzymes and bacteria to recycle PET, PU into bioplastic

By Jared Paben, Plastics Recycling Update: Technology Edition

November 2, 2016

Scientists are using an enzyme to break down PET and PU into their component monomers and then employing bacteria to rebuild them into a PHA bioplastic. PET Water Bottles / iamshutter, Shutterstock

Scientists are using an enzyme to break down PET and PU into their component monomers and then employing bacteria to rebuild them into a PHA bioplastic.

The European Union-funded project seeks to find ways to recycle petroleum-based plastics into a new biodegradable, biobased version.

"If recycling innovations like plastic-eating bacteria are successfully scaled up, then the value of plastic waste will increase along with the economic incentive to recycle," according to the article. "This could create a system less reliant on virgin plastic and help recyclers compete during [periods of] low oil prices."

The "P4SB" project, as it's called, delves into the world of synthetic biology to aid in plastics recycling. Specifically, scientists are exploring uses for deeply engineered, whole-cell bacterial catalysts.

Using the technology, they're working to create custom-made enzymes to depolymerize PET and polyurethane into their monomers. Using the same technology, they're then able to custom-design a bacteria capable of metabolizing those monomers. The bacteria then "undergo deep metabolic surgery" to create polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) and derivatives. Additional advanced techniques are then used to separate the PHA bioplastic from the bacterial mass.

Horizon, the research and innovation magazine of the European Union, recently wrote about the 7.05 million Euro (about $7.7 million) project. The article also touches on the difficulty reclaimers face competing against low virgin plastic prices.

One project partner hopes to develop a bioplastic substitute for PU currently used in furniture, footwear and electronics, and another is developing a bio-based glue for food labels.

The four-year project began in April 2015 and is scheduled to go through March 2019.