New bio-based materials from non-biodegradable plastic waste for the packaging and pharmaceutical industries

25 August 2023

AIMPLAS is an integral part of the BioICEP project (Bio-Innovation of a Circular Economy for Plastics), which commenced in February 2020 and is backed by funding from the Horizon 2020 program. The overarching objective of this project is to formulate sustainable and ecologically responsible alternatives to conventional petroleum-derived plastics.

To achieve this, the project has embraced an innovative cascade approach, merging chemical and biological methodologies. This unique blend effectively converts fossil-based plastic waste into natural, biodegradable substitutes tailored for applications in packaging and pharmaceutical industries. Consequently, this breakthrough approach yields bio-based materials derived from plastic waste.

AIMPLAS played a crucial role in the project, focusing on the initial treatment of plastics through microwave-assisted thermochemical degradation. This cutting-edge technology showcased promising outcomes by transforming non-biodegradable plastic waste, including low-density polyethylene, into readily biodegradable materials, achieving complete degradation within 28 days. Additionally, the project utilized polyamide depolymerization to extract the monomers of these polymers. Subsequently, microorganisms break down these monomers, enabling their conversion into sought-after products such as bioplastics.

Furthermore, AIMPLAS harnessed reactive extrusion techniques to alter the polymeric chains' structure, enhancing the biodegradation potential of these plastics. The institute also holds the coordinating role in terms of result dissemination, exploitation, and communication activities.

BioICEP successfully accomplished its mission of designing processes to mitigate plastic waste in the environment. By uniting partners from diverse countries and expertise domains, the project tackled the challenge of developing alternative processes. This collaborative, multidisciplinary approach was pivotal in the project's success and led to the extraction of bio-based materials from plastic waste.

The BioICEP solution revolves around three technologies that significantly amplify and expedite plastic degradation, surpassing current capabilities. A three-pronged depolymerization system systematically disassembles plastic waste.

The initial step involves chemical disintegration processes, including an innovative microwave-driven technique that reduces base polymer molecular weight, thus augmenting biodegradation potential. The second phase encompasses biocatalytic digestion, utilizing improved enzymes via innovative approaches like fluorescent sensor screening and directed evolution. Finally, the third process employs synergistic microbial consortia derived from top-tier single microbial strains. This combined approach maximizes the degradation efficiency of mixed plastic waste streams. The resultant products are then utilized in generating new polymers and bioproducts, fostering a circular economy centered around plastic waste.

In summary, AIMPLAS' contribution to the BioICEP project has paved the way for groundbreaking advancements in plastics' circular economy, aligning with the global imperative to reduce plastic waste's environmental impact.