EU project seeks to convert organic solid waste into bioplastics

A recently launched project will create chemical building blocks, biopolymers and additives using the urban biorefinery concept to convert organic components of municipal waste into bioplastics. Named Urbiofin, the European project seeks to offer a feasible and more sustainable alternative to the current treatment of organic municipal solid waste. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research (Wageningen, Netherlands) focuses on two specific topics in this project: The production of medium-chain-length fatty acids and derived PHAs via microbial fermentation and the scale-up, efficient extraction and novel commercial applications of these bioplastics.

As a building block for high-quality products, sustainable fatty acids have interesting market applications, said Hans Mooibroek, Project Manager at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. “In this project we are focusing on the conversion of fatty acids to PHAs. A key advantage of these microbial plastics is that they are produced from renewable resources and are completely biodegradable,” Mooibroek explained. “Our specific objective is to produce so-called medium-chain-length PHAs (mcl-PHAs), which are suitable for high-value applications such as biodegradable agricultural plastics or biomaterials for the cosmetics industry.”

The production of PHAs occurs in stages, said Mooibroek. “In the first step, we use short-chain fatty acids from solid biomass and apply our knowledge of fermentation technology. We put a yeast to work that converts the carbohydrates into longer-chain fatty acids,” he explained. “We carry the technology that we develop in our lab on to partners who want to apply the process on an industrial scale. Together with our research partner AINIA from Valencia, which produces short-chain fatty acids and PHAs from waste, we have recently visited another Spanish partner, IRIAF/Clamber, to make sure that they have the knowledge and facilities for scaling up the fermentation and downstream processes.”

Bringing the various PHAs to market is the task of commercial partners Stefany Emballages Services, a packaging company, and bioplastics development company NaturePlast.

The 16 project partners in Urbiofin are located in eight European countries;  Spanish engineering company IMECAL is coordinating the project.

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