Engineered Microbes Bio-Based Infinitely Recyclable Plastic
Asia/ Terra/ Sustainability

Turning the Tide on Plastic: Bio-Based Plastics Outperform Petrochemicals

New Engineered Microbes Bio Based Infinitely Recyclable Plastic Header Photo by Photo courtesy of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

In a significant step towards sustainable alternatives to plastic, scientists have successfully engineered microbes to produce the key components for an infinitely recyclable plastic known as poly(diketoenamine), or PDK.

This breakthrough, a result of collaboration among teams at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National laboratory, is predominantly bio-based. This offers an advantage over petrochemical-derived plastics in both cost and material properties.

Traditional plastics are notorious for their inability to be recycled without quality loss, and their reliance on finite, pollution petrochemicals. PDKs, however, can be broken down into pristine building blocks and reformed without any loss in quality.

Up until now, PDKs still relied on ingredients derived from petrochemicals. With this new development, the researchers have manipulated E. coli to convert plant sugars into bioTAL, a starting material for PDKs, creating a PDK with an estimated 80% bio-content.

Moreover, the incorporation of bioTAL expands the working temperature range of the material by 60 degrees Celsius, opening potential applications in sports gear and automotive parts. The team is confident that a pathway to 100% bio-content in recyclable plastics is achievable.

This development could profoundly impact the global plastic waste crisis, with current projections estimating plastic waste production to surpass 1 billion tons by 2050. The work lays the foundation for creating bio-renewable and circular materials, providing an incentive for industries to adopts them.

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