The first kilo of PHA was produced at the biological sewage treatment plant in Bath, the Netherlands, which is run by the Brabantse Delta water board and the designated pilot plant for the project in 20165. Ultimately, the bacteria produced 0.47 grams of PHA per gram of organic matter in the sludge, which was well above the lower limit for a good business case of 0.40 grams. Moreover, the PHA produced proved to offer superior properties compared to commercially available PHA, according to the other water boards participating in the project. Next to the Brabants Delta water board, three other water boards, Fryslân, Scheldestromen and De Dommel, also took part.
Etteke Wypkema, innovation manager at the Brabantse Delta water board explained ‘The processes required for purifying sewage water appear to breed the right bacteria for making PHA bioplastic. For the bacteria, this plastic is a form of energy reserve – if you offer them enough food under the right conditions, they produce this plastic, up to forty to fifty percent of their own weight. This plastic has very good thermal and mechanical properties that make it usable for all kinds of applications. It is also biodegradable.’
Today, the partners have arrived at, as project leader Leon Korving of the water board Brabantse Delta calls it, phase 1.5. ‘In this interim phase, we are preparing to make the leap to the next phase: PHARIO 2.0. This phase will comprise a demonstration facility that will produce between one and three thousand kilograms of PHA. This is a sufficient volume for large-scale testing by customers in order to determine the value of the material. This, in turn, will provide the basis for the step to full scale. ‘
Korving: ‘The cost price of PHA bioplastic is competitive, can even fall and the supply is reliable. Moreover, we demonstrated in the pilot that we can produce PHA bioplastic of good and stable quality. Also important is the fact that our technology is protected by a patent, giving us a competitive advantage. In addition, the water boards are prepared to grant entrepreneurs who want to use PHARIO access to their sewage treatment plants. Hence the road towards commercial success is open for Phario. The only thing that is needed is courage and an entrepreneurial spirit to give the project a boost.’