UK-based Biome Bioplastics has kick-started a £3 million, three-year program to progress bio-based chemicals research through to industrial scale production.
The consortium aims 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. It would allow natural polymers to truly compete with oil-based polymers on both cost and functionality, according to the company.
"The ready availability of high value, sustainable chemicals from natural sources will be a game changer for the bioplastics market. Success in this work would allow us to competitively challenge the dominance of oil-based polymers," said Biome Bioplastics CEO Paul Mines.
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.
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' development program will build on this finding by increasing yields and scaling up the technology to demonstrate commercial viability and the potential for industrial volumes of production.
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.
Larger trials to be taken place at CPI will produce demonstration quantities of chemicals to be converted into novel materials for evaluation among Biome Bioplastics' existing customers.
"Working from bench scale to 10,000L, our open innovation model enables clients to develop and demonstrate the next generation of products and processes," said Steve Pearson, Business and Strategy Manager at CPI.
In addition to converting lignin feedstocks, Biome Bioplastics 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.
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.