The UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board, has awarded a grant to a consortium led by Biome Technologies, to investigate a bio-based alternative for the oil derived organic chemicals used in the manufacturer of bioplastics.
The research will be undertaken by the group’s bioplastic division, Biome Bioplastics, in conjunction with the University of Warwick’s Centre for Biotechnology and Biorefining.
The £150,000 grant is part of the Technology Strategy Board’s ‘Sustainable high value chemical manufacture through industrial biotechnology’ technical feasability competition, which funds projects that apply sustainable bio-based feedstocks and biocatalytic processes in the production of chemicals.
Biome has partnered with the University of Warwick’s Centre for Biotechnology and Biorefining that is pioneering academic research into lignin degrading bacteria. Biome is working with the Warwick team to develop methods to control the lignin breakdown process to determine whether these chemicals can be extracted in significant quantities.
The TSB grant will support an initial feasibility project to isolate a chemical from lignin to replace the oil-derived equivalent currently used in a polyester that conveys strength and flexibility in some of Biome’s products. The production of such a bio-based polyester would reportedly reduce the cost and further enhance the sustainability of these products.
“The environmental and social concerns surrounding the use of fossil fuels and food crops make lignin a compelling target as a source of chemicals,” explained Professor Tim Bugg, Director of the Centre. “Often considered a waste product, it may provide a sustainable source of building blocks for aromatic chemicals that can be used in bioplastics”.
If the initial feasibility assessment is successful, building on this work, Biome will explore the possibilities for deriving a wide selection of bio-based aromatic chemicals from lignin, further reducing cost and expanding bioplastic functionality.
“The bioplastics market remains small compared to that of fossil-based polymers”, commented Biome Bioplastics CEO, Paul Mines. “Growth is restricted by the price of bioplastic resins being 2-4 times that of their petrochemical counterparts. We anticipate that the availability of a high performance polymer, manufactured economically from renewable sources would considerably increase the market”.