Environment

New bioplastic is made from waste, and biodegrades in 12 months

New bioplastic is made from wa...
Pellets of the bacterially produced polyhydroxybutyrate
Pellets of the bacterially produced polyhydroxybutyrate
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Pellets of the bacterially produced polyhydroxybutyrate
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Pellets of the bacterially produced polyhydroxybutyrate

Two of the main problems with traditional plastics are the facts that they're made from non-renewable petroleum, and they stick around for centuries once discarded. A new alternative, however, is made from existing waste, and should biodegrade within a year.

In order to produce the "eco-friendly" plastic, scientists at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology started with industrial waste such as fats, that contained a high level of residual minerals.

Within a fermentation chamber, genetically modified bacteria then metabolized those minerals, converting them into a biopolymer known as polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). The microbes stored it in their cells in liquid form, as an energy source.

Once the PHB had subsequently been dissolved out of the bacteria, it was mixed with proprietary chemical additives – among other things, these caused the PHB to harden much more quickly than would otherwise have been the case. What resulted was a biologically derived polyester that is said to exhibit properties similar to those of polypropylene.

That said, if the PHB-based polyester is placed in an ordinary landfill, naturally occurring micro-organisms will reportedly break it down completely within six to 12 months.

Of course, it's still best if plastic products are reused or recycled. To that end, Fraunhofer suggests that the new material be used mainly in single-use, disposable products.

Source: Fraunhofer

4 comments
earl69
So, planned obsolescence is now GOOD!! Who knew?!
buzzclick
The recycling process requires not mixing polymers from different plastics. I still don't understand why someone hasn't figured out a way to blend them together to produce a viable fuel source since it all comes from petroleum.
Roger Parsons
"Minerals" are inorganic compounds. This process is not converting minerals into the organic compound polyhydroxybutyrate. Your source wrote; "This new process turn industrial leftovers such as waste fats that contain a lot of mineral residue into polyhydroxybutyrate," ... meaning the fats were being converted (and the fats incidentally had a lot of mineral content).
Aross
I don't see any answers to the questions, what does it break down into? Is the result eco friendly? What is the long term harm these residues can cause?