24 April 2015

Biome Bioplastics leads £3m sustainable chemicals development programme

Researchers consortium to harness industrial biotechnology techniques to produce bio-based chemicals from lignin at a scale suitable for industrial testing

Biome Bioplastics has begun a major development programme to progress successful bio-based chemicals research through to industrial scale production. The project has the potential to significantly accelerate the global bioplastics market with the production of novel target materials, including a fully bio-based polyester.

The extensive £3m, three-year work programme led by Biome Bioplastics has received significant support from Innovate UK, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), among others. The scale-up work will involve several parallel projects undertaken in partnership with specialist units at the Universities of Warwick, Liverpool and Leeds as well as the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) on Teesside.

The consortium’s aim is to harness industrial biotechnology techniques to produce bio-based chemicals from lignin at a scale suitable for industrial testing. Lignin is an abundant waste product of the pulp and paper industry. The availability of these chemicals could revolutionise the bioplastics market. For the first time, it would allow natural polymers to truly compete with oil-based polymers on both cost and functionality. The work could also contribute to a sustainable UK chemicals industry, with broader commercial applications including fragrances, coatings and personal care products.

Biome Bioplastics CEO, Paul Mines, comments:

“The ready availability of high value, sustainable chemicals from natural sources will be a game changer for the bioplastics market. Success in this work would allow us to competitively challenge the dominance of oil-based polymers. The technology we are developing is part of the growing adoption of bio-based processes that is likely to deliver radical changes across the materials industry.”

Scientists have been trying to valorise lignin for more than 30 years. Last year, Biome Bioplastics and the University of Warwick’s Centre for Industrial Biotechnology and Biorefining successfully demonstrated that bacterial degradation can be used to produce organic chemicals from lignin that are suitable for bioplastic manufacture. In groundbreaking research, the team proved that soil bacteria can be used to manipulate the breakdown pathway and that the process can be controlled and improved using synthetic biology.

Biome Bioplastics’ extensive development programme will build on this proven science by increasing yields and scaling up the technology to demonstrate commercial viability and the potential for industrial volumes of production. Larger trials will be undertaken at CPI and demonstration quantities of chemicals will be converted into novel materials for evaluation among Biome Bioplastics’ existing customers.

Source: Biome Bioplastics, press release, 2015-04-21.

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