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Developments in bioplastics feedstock - seaweed, shrimp shells, microalgal biomass

Developments in bioplastics feedstock - seaweed, shrimp shells, microalgal biomass

01-Sep-14

There is a need for increased production of biomass-based, biodegradable plastics in order to achieve the EU2020 target of 10% of market plastics being bioplastics. Irish scientists aim to use seaweed to sustainably create bioplastics- Researchers at the Daithi O’Murchu Marine Research Station, Bantry are leading the way in the search for sustainable, biodegradable plastics as part of a major international research project. Dr Julie Maguire is leading the  team as part of the SEABIOPLAS project which is looking at using seaweed to create biodegradable plastic. The project aims to develop seaweed as an alternative to human and animal food crops to produce plastics. Controlled cultivation of seaweeds allows for high traceability, management of biomass composition and properties, high quality and sustainability. Sustainability is further increased when cultivation of seaweed is carried out in Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) systems. IMTA systems work by incorporating the waste products produced by one species into the diet of another species. Aquaculture produces phosphorus and nitrogen in large quantities that are lost to the surrounding ecosystem. Over 67-80% of nitrogen and 50% of phosphorus fed to farmed fish goes into the environment, either directly from the fish or from solid wastes. Seaweed is able to utilise this nitrogen and phosphorus and produce new biomass through photosynthesis, thus removing these excess nutrients from the surrounding area. As well as the benefits of seaweed in IMTA, it also has several advantages over using the raw materials currently used in biomass-based plastics, including a reduction of CO2 emissions, higher productivity, no risk of potential deforestation, no freshwater consumption and no fertilisers or pesticides used.
Researchers from the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and Korea University have developed a technology to produce succinate, a material used to make bioplastics, from CO2-grown microalgal biomass. The engineered corynebacterium glutamicum, a microorganism, can produce the amylase enzyme all by itself, which can then degrade the starch within the microalgal biomass. This thus produces a highly efficient succinate without the need of an additional diastatic enzyme. After an additional process, the succinate (succinic acid), can be used as a raw material to make plastics, coating pigments, urethane or solvents. Microalgal biomass is a microorganism that lives on light and carbon dioxide and can be cultivated in large quantities. So far, lignocellulosic biomass has been used to produce succinate, but due to its complex chemical structure, it is difficult to bring about chemical and physical reactions in the pre-process phase. The process of making glucose by degrading starch or polysaccharide is also too complicated. The bacteria used in the research is the engineered corynebacterium glutamicum, used to produce amino acids or hexane in the biochemical or food industries. It is expected to be applied to other existing projects. Corynebacterium glutamicum is a microorganism that is used to make, “bio amino acid,” which is, again, used to produce animal feed or food additives. The research was conducted as part of the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning’s “Korea CCS 2020 Project,” a research initiative to secure original technologies to capture and store carbon dioxide. This particular research is meaningful because researchers developed a technology to use carbon dioxide, one of the causes of global warming, to produce bioplastics. The research results were published on July 24 in Scientific Reports, a sister-magazine to Nature.
Researchers at Harvard University have discovered shrimp shells can be used for manufacturing quickly degradable plastic. In experiments with the material in shrimp shells, called chitosan, and material from silk, known as fibroin, researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering put the two together at a nano level. The result was a material they call "shrilk" -- a substance that's both remarkably malleable and incredibly sturdy. "It actually feels like a huge beetle shell, or cuticle," says Don Ingber, the director of the Wyss Institute. (It) can be very strong in terms of tensile strength. If you wet them they can actually get more flexible. We can get the range of different properties of plastics by changing how we fabricate these." Shrilk is fully biodegradable. The current challenge for shrilk is to make it cost-effective. There's plenty of raw material- We need to work with real manufacturers who know what the design challenges are and the durability and the cost," says Ingber. "The materials exist, the manufacturing processes exist, it really just requires it to be integrated into the pipeline."

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