United Kingdom – Bio-plastics could become more commercially viable using waste cooking oil as a source material, scientists from two UK universities believe.
Dr Iza Radecka, senior lecturer in biotechnology at the University of Wolverhampton, told a conference of the Society for General Microbiology that the oil would be naturally synthesised by microbes. Apart from reducing environmental contamination, this would also ‘create high-quality plastics suitable for medical implants,’ she said.
The bacterium Ralstonia eutropha H16 is the key ingredient in the process. ‘Currently, growing bacteria in large fermenters to produce high quantities of this bio-plastic is expensive because glucose is used as a starting material,’ stated Dr Radecka. But substituting glucose with cooking oil took the process onto a different level.
‘Our bioplastic-producing bacterium produced three times more PHB [polyhydroxybutyrate] over 48 hours than when it was grown in glucose,’ confirmed Victor Irorer, who carried out the research at the University of Wolverhampton. Electrospinning experiments, performed in collaboration with researchers from the University of Birmingham, additionally proved that ‘nanofibres of the plastic produced from oils were also less crystalline, which means it is more suited to medical applications,’ he said.
Dr Radecka pointed out the end material, which can be labelled polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), was naturally biodegradable. ‘The use of biodegradable plastics such as PHB is encouraged to help reduce environmental contamination. Using waste cooking oil is a double benefit as it enables the production of bio-plastics but also reduces environmental contamination caused by disposal of waste oil,’ she said.
The Wolverhampton said its next challenge was to scale up its experiments to determine whether the process could succeed at industrial level.
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