By G.P. Thomas
The University of Wolverhampton researchers have presented their method to synthesize bioplastics utilizing waste cooking oil as feedstock at the Society for General Microbiology's Autumn Conference held at the University of Warwick.
This work paves the way to produce commercially viable bioplastics that are naturally produced by microorganisms, because existing technique is expensive as the starting material is glucose. Moreover, this technique could decrease environmental impact and provide superior-quality bioplastics ideal for medical implants, stated the researchers.
If bacteria’s carbon supply is high, they produce polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) family of polyesters as an energy source. The most commonly synthesized polymer in the PHA group is poly 3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB). Victor Irorere, who conducted the research, informed that the researchers used Ralstonia eutropha H16, a bioplastic-producing bacterium that demonstrated tremendous growth in oil over a period of 48 h and synthesized triple the quantity of PHB when compared to its growth in glucose.
Electrospinning experiments conducted in partnership with scientists at the University of Birmingham, demonstrated that less crystalline structure of the nanofibers of the plastic synthesized from oils makes the plastic ideal for medical purposes, said Irorere.
Dr Iza Radecka, who led the work, explained that the utilization of biodegradable plastics like PHB is believed to reduce environmental impact. However, the commercialization of bioplastics is significantly affected by the cost of glucose as a feedstock. The use of waste cooking oil not only facilitates the synthesis of bioplastics but also decreases environmental impact owing to waste oil disposal.
The team’s next challenge is to perform appropriate scale-up experiments to facilitate industrial-scale synthesis of bioplastics.