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Microscopic manufacturers produce eco-friendly plastics
Date:5/19/2009

Last year's energy crisis highlighted an unforseen by-product of the looming fuel shortages of the 21st century. Petroleum-based products such as plastics that society takes for granted but now requires to function will run out with the oil. Scientists are looking to microorganisms to pick up the slack and help produce environmentally friendly plastics, according to research presented today at the 109th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.

"Organic waste from agriculture, industries and households forms a very large resource that is currently discarded or at best transformed into biogas. From a sustainability point of view it is desired to convert these organic resources in chemicals," says Mark van Loosdrecht of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, who has been working on using bacteria to transform this waste into bioplastics known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs).

PHAs are linear polyesters produced by bacterial fermentation of sugar or lipids (fats). They are produced by the bacteria to store carbon and energy. More than 150 different monomers can be combined within this family to give materials with extremely different properties. These plastics are biodegradeable and are used in the production of bioplastics. However, the high cost of PHA production compared to conventional plastics has limited their use in a wide range of applications.

Using technology derived from wastewater treatment systems, van Loosdrecht and his lab have developed a process using open microbial cultures to convert organic wastes to PHAs. This new process is able to produce just as much PHA as existing processes at specific rates that are up to three times faster.

Kevin O'Connor at the University College in Dublin, Ireland, has also developed a new process using bacteria to produce PHAs from waste, only the waste is not organic. O'Connor has found a way to transform traditional plastics into biodegradable pla
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Contact: Jim Sliwa
jsliwa@asmusa.org
202-942-9297
American Society for Microbiology
Source:Eurekalert

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