Biome is leading the £3m UK project into chemicals research for the development of bioplastics
UK-based Biome Bioplastics has begun a major development programme to progress successful bio-based chemicals research through to industrial scale production.
The company says the project has the potential to significantly accelerate the global bioplastics market with the production of novel target materials, including a fully bio-based polyester.
The extensive £3m, three-year work programme led by Biome Bioplastics has received significant support from Innovate UK, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), among others. The scale-up work will involve several parallel projects undertaken in partnership with specialist units at the Universities of Warwick, Liverpool and Leeds as well as the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) on Teesside.
The consortium's aim is to harness industrial biotechnology techniques to produce bio-based chemicals from lignin at a scale suitable for industrial testing.
Lignin is an abundant waste product of the pulp and paper industry. Biome says the availability of these chemicals could “revolutionise” the bioplastics market, adding that, for the first time, it would allow natural polymers to “truly compete with oil-based polymers on both cost and functionality”. The work could also contribute to a sustainable UK chemicals industry, with broader commercial applications including fragrances, coatings and personal care products.
“The ready availability of high value, sustainable chemicals from natural sources will be a game changer for the bioplastics market,” commented Biome Bioplastics CEO, Paul Mines. “Success in this work would allow us to competitively challenge the dominance of oil-based polymers. The technology we are developing is part of the growing adoption of bio-based processes that is likely to deliver radical changes across the materials industry.”
Scientists have been trying to valorise lignin for more than 30 years. Last year, Biome Bioplastics and the University of Warwick's Centre for Industrial Biotechnology and Biorefining successfully demonstrated that bacterial degradation can be used to produce organic chemicals from lignin that are suitable for bioplastic manufacture. In groundbreaking research, the team proved that soil bacteria can be used to manipulate the breakdown pathway and that the process can be controlled and improved using synthetic biology.
Biome Bioplastics' says its extensive development programme will build on this proven science by increasing yields and scaling up the technology to demonstrate commercial viability and the potential for industrial volumes of production. Larger trials will be undertaken at CPI and demonstration quantities of chemicals will be converted into novel materials for evaluation among Biome Bioplastics' existing customers, the company said.
Steve Pearson, Business and Strategy Manager at CPI explained: “Working from bench scale to 10,000 L, our open innovation model enables clients to develop and demonstrate the next generation of products and processes. We are delighted to be working with Biome Bioplastics on this project and hope that together we can successfully scale up the technology to demonstrate commercial viability.”
In addition to converting lignin feedstocks, Biome Bioplastics said it will also be leading a one-year feasibility study with the University of Liverpool into the possibility of extracting similar organic chemicals from the cellulose portion of lignocellulose. This work, it says, is expected to broaden the possible raw materials that can be used in the manufacture of bioplastics to include waste streams such as agriculture. If successful, this work will be integrated into the ongoing development work towards industrial scale products.