Biome Bioplastics, a bioplastic manufacturer based in Southampton, UK, has begun a major $4.5-million, three-year development program to progress successful biobased 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 biobased polyester.
Innovate UK, among others, is backing the program, and the partners in the scale-up work will include specialist units at the Universities of Warwick, Liverpool and Leeds as well as the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI). The aim is to harness industrial biotechnology techniques to produce biobased 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 this chemical could revolutionize 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 broader sustainable chemicals industry, with commercial applications including fragrances, coatings and personal care products.
As Biome Bioplastics CEO, Paul Mines, said: "The ready availability of high-value, sustainable chemicals from natural sources will be a game changer for the bioplastics market."
He went on: "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 valorize 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. 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 program 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 the UK's Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) and demonstration quantities of chemicals will be converted into novel materials for evaluation among Biome Bioplastics' existing customers.
In addition to converting lignin feedstocks, Biome Bioplastics will also be leading a one-year feasibility study with the University of Liverpool into the possibility of extracting similar organic chemicals from the cellulose portion of lignocellulose.
This research is expected to broaden the possible raw materials that can be used in the manufacture of bioplastics to include waste streams such as agriculture. If successful, this work will be integrated into the ongoing development work towards industrial scale products.