Waste can be base of new bioplastics. There are many waste resources hidden in our communities. Municipal solid waste (MSW), agricultural residues and sewage sludge from water treatment plants contains lots of reusable carbon fractions. To recover them means recovering a valuable product as well as preserving the environment. The European Commission is working in order to develop the Synpol (“Biopolymers from syngas fermentation”) project, that is funded under the Food, agriculture and fisheries, and biotechnology Theme of the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) to the tune of € 7.5 million.
Led by the Biological Research Centre (Cib, Madrid, Spain) which is part of the Spanish National Research Council (Csic), the Synpol consortium is investigating the bacterial production of biopolymers (e.g., polyhydroxyalkanoates [PHA] for bioplastic) from different complex waste streams by pyrolytic syngas production coupled to bacterial fermentation using especially the CO and H2 compounds of the syngas.
The Synpol project partners, with various areas of expertise like waste management, gasification/pyrolysis techniques, academics and commercial work, have put the following non-food feedstocks for biopolymers production in the spotlight: urban, agricultural and water treatment trash. They are using sophisticated technologies that 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.
“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 Oliver Drzyzga, project manager from Cib-Csic.
Commenting on how important EU funding is and how this study will bring benefits for Europe through the development of new waste-to-bioplastics techniques, according to José Luis García López, project coordinator and principle investigator at Cib-CSic “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. Thus, there is a strong and urgent 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. This EU funding has made possible a great collaboration between research scientists and technologists in universities and (bio)technology companies who will deliver the benefits to society in a very near future.”
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. Therefore, 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.