28 April 2008 22:27 [Source: ICIS news]
CHICAGO (ICIS news)--Companies are looking towards the production of more economical biodegradable plastics from switch grass and sugarcane, several researchers said on Monday.
Researches are developing the use of switch grass and sugarcane as possible cheaper sources of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), said Kristi Snell, team leader of Metabolix’s plant metabolic engineering group. Snell spoke at the World Congress on Industrial & Bioprocessing conference in ?xml:namespace>
PHAs are a class of biodegradable polyesters that are naturally produced by many bacteria. Metabolix is working to directly produce one type of PHA - poly-3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB) - in switch grass in high volumes, Snell said.
“PHA biobased plastics are high performing new materials that have the potential to put a large portion of the plastics and chemicals industry on a sustainable basis,” she said. “With switch grass, we are trying to find a way to grow the plant with high levels of PHB production without impacting the health and growth of the plant,” Snell added.
The use of switch grass in the
“Switch grass for bioplastics could be quite significant as it has high biomass yield, capable of growth in marginal lands, and has minimal agriculture inputs,” Snell added.
Scientists from the Iowa State University (ISU) have also been looking at switch grass by collaborating with Metabolix, said Eva Wurtele, professor, systems biology at ISU.
“Production of PHAs in plants could provide a solar-energy-powered source of bioplastic. However, economically viable production of plant-based bioplastics tends to have detrimental effects on their growth, which limits the use of plants as bio-factories,” she said.
ISU’s goal, said Wurtele, is to look at several factors regulating PHB in the plant using a systems approach.
The institute has already identified 600 transgenic sugarcane lines that could produce higher PHB levels, he said.
Another development is the production of PHAs using biodiesel-based crude glycerol as feedstock, said Christopher Nomura, assistant professor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF).
“The use of low-value glycerol as a carbon feedstock to be transformed to biodegradable plastics could significantly lower the price of PHA production and create a new marketplace for the excess waste glycerol from biodiesel production,” said Nomura.
The researchers at SUNY ESF are using the bacteria Pseudomonas putida KT2440 to produce PHA from crude glycerol.
The three-day conference ends on Wednesday.
Bookmark Doris de Guzman’s Green Chemicals Blog for some independent thinking on green chemicals
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