A new type of plastic made from recycled waste degrades in less than a year. This substance can be manufactured and decomposed in an eco-friendly manner. Ideal for the production of disposable products with the name polyhydroxybutrate. This innovative material can be produced on an industrial scale through a new process developed by IPK and its partners at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology.
It’s hard to imagine no plastic in everyday life. Plastics play an important role in packaging and consumer goods and are indispensable in industrial applications such as automotive and medical engineering. Recycling and recycling plastics from fossil resources is not common. In addition, they will pollute the environment for a long time to come. Large pieces of plastic waste floating in the ocean prove their ability to pollute. Plastic bottles and plastic bags destroyed beaches and polluted entire areas of land in many places.
Given the high use of plastics around the world, there is an urgent need to develop a global recycling strategy. A growing number of governments are taking prohibitions to curb the spread of plastic waste. There is no viable alternative to fossil plastics on a large scale. That is why the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), in close cooperation with fraunhofer IPK, the Department of Biotechnology and Technology at the Technical University of Berlin, regional industrial partners and international research partners from Malaysia, Colombia and the United States, has launched the “Bioökonomie International” research programme. The researchers are developing a way to make polymers without using high-quality resources such as mineral oil, palm oil and rapeseed oil, which are very environmentally friendly.
The Fraunhofer IPK team developed this injection molding tool to replicate prototype parts made of polyhydroxybutyrate. Source: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.
A new type of plastic similar to polypropylene.
This new process converts industrial residues, such as waste grease containing large amounts of mineral residues, into polyhydroxybutyric acid (PHB). Microorganisms can metabolize these residues during special fermentation processes. They store PHB in cells to store energy. “Once the plastic dissolves out of the cells, it still can’t be used for industrial purposes because the hardening process takes too long,” said Christoph Hein, head of micro-production technology at Fraunhofer IPK. In the later stages of production, raw materials must be mixed with downstream chemical additives. For example, the team adjusted the plasticization and processing parameters to reduce the recrystation time to accommodate the industrial processing time. Results The performance of this biopolymer is similar to that of polypropylene. But unlike PP, the plastic degrades completely within six to 12 months.
In this method of producing plastics, microorganisms synthesize the entire polymer in the biotechnology process. “To do this, we convert biological residues such as discarded fats into polyester that can be put into use in technology,” Hein said. The researchers and his team chose microbes genetically modified by molecular methods as biocatalysts. With the help of chemical purification processes and extensively optimized materials, they have been able to develop a new range of materials to meet the needs of technical plastics.
This new process not only completely eliminates oil-based synthetic components, but also enables the replacement of green plastics. Naturally occurring microorganisms can break down these newly developed plastics, so they do not need to be affected by the special conditions of degraded substances in industrial composting plants. They provide an eco-friendly alternative to the manufacture and degradation of disposable products and other disposable items.
The process is also suitable for the production of high-quality plastic parts for certain technical applications and life. The specifications of this kind of products are high. They may have to exhibit specific geometric tolerances and surface quality, or high-precision replicability. Researchers have developed highly specialized replication processes to meet these requirements.