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Scientists and technologists put spotlight on converting waste into bioplastics

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Scientists and technologists from 8 countries have kicked off a new EU-funded project that explores the conversion of different complex waste streams to valuable products such as bioplastics. SYNPOL1 has secured almost EUR 7.5 million in funding under the Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Biotechnology theme of the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7)

 

Led by the Spanish Biological Research Centre (CIB, Madrid) which is part of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), scientists and technologists from 8 academic and 6 industrial institutions are working together to produce biopolymers (e.g., polyhydroxyalkanoates [PHA] for bioplastic) from different waste streams (e.g., municipal solid waste, agricultural residues, sewage sludge from water treatment plants) via pyrolytic syngas production and subsequent bacterial fermentation.


From 2012 to 2016, the R&D activities of the SYNPOL consortium will focus on the integration of innovative physico-chemical, biochemical, downstream and synthetic technologies to produce a wide range of new biopolymers. The integration will engage novel and mutually synergistic production methods as well as the assessment of the environmental benefits and drawbacks. This integrative platform will be revolutionary in its implementation of novel microwave pyrolytic waste treatments coupled to fermentation techniques using systems-biology defined highly efficient and physiologically balanced recombinant bacteria. The latter will produce biopolymer building blocks and PHA that will serve to synthesize novel bio-based plastic prototypes by chemical and enzymatic catalysis.
“Two major advantages of the SYNPOL project are that the waste streams used for syngas production are not competing with those of the food value chain as is the case for the biodiesel production and that our final product, the bioplastic, that is produced biologically by bacteria will be 100% biodegradable”, said project manager Dr. Oliver Drzyzga from CIB-CSIC.


Thus, the SYNPOL platform will empower the treatment and recycling of complex biological and chemical wastes and raw materials in a single integrated process. The knowledge generated through this innovative biotechnological approach will not only benefit the environmental management of terrestrial wastes, but also reduce the harmful environmental impact of petroleum-based plastics.


“More than 25 million tons of plastics are disposed of annually in EU landfills or directly into the environment, posing a huge environmental burden due to their recalcitrance towards degradation”, said project coordinator and principle investigator Professor José Luis García López at the Environmental Biotechnology Division at CIB-CSIC. “Thus, there is a strong need for alternative processes to address the development and application of industrial biotechnologies for the conversion of waste materials into sustainable and cost-efficient bio-products such as new biopolymers.”


The SYNPOL project offers a timely strategic action that will enable the EU to lead worldwide the syngas fermentation technology for waste revalorisation and sustainable biopolymer production.


The project is coordinated by the CIB-CSIC in Spain. More information and news at www.synpol.org


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