In view of the extensive use of plastics around the world, there is an urgent need to develop a global recycling strategy. More and more governments are taking measures to curb the expansion of plastic waste. At present, there is no feasible scheme to replace fossil plastics on a large scale. For this reason, the German Federal Ministry of education and Research (BMBF), in close cooperation with Fraunhofer ipk, the Department of biotechnology, Berlin University of technology, regional industrial partners, and international research partners from Malaysia, Colombia and the United States, launched the bio u00f3 konomie international research program. These researchers are developing a way to make polymers without using high-quality resources such as mineral oil, palm oil and rapeseed oil, which are produced in a way that is very bad for the environment.
The Fraunhofer ipk team developed the injection molding tool to replicate prototype parts made from polyhydroxybutyrate. Source: Fraunhofer Gesellschaft
A new type of plastics similar to polypropylene
This new process converts industrial residues, such as waste oil containing a large amount of mineral residues, into polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). Microorganisms can metabolize these residues during special fermentation processes. They store PHB in cells to store energy. Once the plastic dissolves from the cell, it still cant be used for industrial use because the hardening process takes too long, said Christoph Hein, head of microfabrication technology at Fraunhofer ipk. In the later stage of production, raw materials must be mixed with downstream chemical additives. For example, the team adjusted the plasticizing and processing parameters to shorten the recrystallization time to adapt to the industrial processing time. Results the properties of the biopolymer were similar to that of polypropylene. But unlike PP, the plastic completely degrades in six to 12 months.
In this method of producing plastics, microorganisms synthesize the entire polymer in a biotechnology process. To do this, were converting biological residues such as waste fat into polyester that can be put into technology, Hein said. The researchers and his team chose microbes genetically modified by molecular methods as biocatalysts. With the help of chemical purification processes and widely optimized materials, they have been able to develop a new range of materials to meet the needs of technical plastics.
This new process not only completely abandons petroleum based synthetic ingredients, but also realizes green plastic substitution. Naturally occurring microorganisms can decompose these newly developed plastics, so they do not need to be affected by the special conditions of degradation materials in industrial composting plants. They provide an eco-friendly alternative to the manufacture and degradation of disposable products and other disposable items.
The process is also suitable for the production of high-quality plastic parts for some technical applications and service life. This kind of product has higher specification requirements. They may have to show specific geometric tolerances and surface quality, or be highly reproducible. Researchers have developed highly specialized replication processes to meet these requirements.
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