16 Mai 2013

The PHA programme: Making plastic from waste

Wageningen University to start up with interested parties before the end of the year

Wageningen UR sees commercial opportunies for bioplastics based on PolyHydroxyAlkanoates (PHA). The advantages of PHAs, as a raw material as a source of bioplastics are well-known. So far, PHAs have not been commercially successful – the quality is not consistent enough and the production costs are too high. Therefore a research and development programme is being started at Wageningen UR together with interested parties.

Christiaan Bolck, the programme manager for Biobased Materials at Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research, is currently laying the foundations for the PHA programme together with Gerrit Eggink, Professor of Industrial Biotechnology, and Hardy Temmink, researcher with the Sub-department of Environmental Technology at Wageningen University. Bolck has the ambition to start up the programme before the end of the year. ‘In order to do that, we need a number of technological and financial partners. The Dutch government and various chain parties have already expressed serious interest.’

Advantages of PHA’s
This group of building blocks have many advantages It can be produced by micro-organisms; the characteristics (and thereby the applications) are similar to those of polypropylene, polyethylene and other plastics; it is more supple than most other bioplastics; and micro-organisms can biodegrade it in nearly any environment, whether in compost bins, in the soil, or in the ocean. Wageningen UR sees opportunities for commercial PHA production from waste flows rich in heterogeneous biomass, and intends to utilise its knowledge and experience to this end.

Stabilising quality
The plans are certainly concrete. ‘Last year saw a great deal of progress being made in the field of biotechnology. Biochemicals are being used on an increasing scale. As a result, we have learned a lot about bioprocess technology, including large-scale production, process stabilisation, and downstream processing. We want to apply this knowledge to improve the quality of PHA bioplastic.’

Reducing the production costs
In order to reduce the production costs, Bolck intends to utilise existing waste flows. ‘We want to use waste flows of heterogeneous biomass, like waste water or compost. It may even be possible to use manure as a raw material. And existing processes and systems can easily be put to work for this. For instance, a waste water purification plant is an existing system in which organic decomposition processes occur, and the logistics and permits are already in place. We wouldn’t have to set up anything to use that, meaning no financial investments would be necessary. And in terms of environmental technology, the technology necessary for PHAs is just a sort of anaerobic digestion 2.0. But our goal is a higher-quality application than biogas.’

Knowledge about market demands
Bolck’s group has plenty of experience in developing and applying bioplastics. ‘We know the standards a plastic has to meet and as such we can guide the development in the right direction, and with our knowledge of additives and processing, we can help ensure its success.’

Integrated research programme
The knowledge of biobased materials, along with Temmink’s knowledge on fatty acid production from waste streams and Eggink’s knowledge about the PHA production from fatty acids, gives Wageningen UR has a rock-solid foundation for working with knowledge institutes and industrial partners in order to make plastic from waste. One of the biggest challenges lies in the efficient production of high quality PHAs from a mixture of fatty acids. These and other research topics are to be answered in the integrated research programme. In the programme all knowledge about materials and polymer technology, biotechnology, and environmental technology and waste water purification is combined. We want to start up this programme with as many partners as possible, currently active in these fields.’

ir CH (Christiaan) Bolck / Programme coordinator
Phone: +31 317 480229

Source: Wageningen UR, press release, 2013-05-16.

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