Clearing a Path to Plastic Recycling
Even bio-based plastics are hard to recycle without Cabrios new process.
Bio-sourced plastics sounds like an environmental boon over petroleum. But even bio-sourced products can't be recycled without intense heat. Carbios has developed a solution with an enzyme that is embedded during production. Their process solves a large and growing problem. The market for PLA (Polylactic acid) is the most widely-used bio-sourced polymer at the industrial level, currently estimated at 190,000 tons according to Nova Institute and European Bioplastics, with an expected annual growth rate between 10% and 28% through 2018, and could thus reach one million tons by 2025. Currently, using existing technologies, PLA is only compostable under industrial conditions, in confined environments that require temperatures above 50°C and high levels of humidity. Consequently, the use of PLA for applications that require complete biodegradation under uncontrolled conditions that are considered "environmental", faces significant constraints. Carbios' successful biodegradation of PLA at ambient temperatures via the use of an enzyme thus constitutes a technological break-through for which many applications may be envisaged.
Jean-Claude Lumaret, CEO of Carbios, stated: "We have proven that Carbios' bio-processes are no longer a utopia to be reached, but are now are an actual reality. A decisive milestone has been reached with PLA. We are eager to continue, along with our academic partners to further develop our biodegradation and bio-recycling processes, targeting industrial applications that address the growing regulatory and societal requirements and constraints affecting the end-of-life of plastics."
The growth potential for the use of PLA lies in its capacity as a substitute for PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and for expanded polystyrene, also known as EPS. The largest application fo PLA is in packaging materials (accounting for 60% of PLA use), particularly food packaging, followed by textile and biomedical applications. Given the broad range of potential applications and uses of PLA, Carbios and its partners in the Thanaplast™ project prioritized this polymer in the development of their technologies for enzymatically biodegrading and bio-recycling plastics. The specific enzyme used in the degradation of PLA, which is proprietary to Carbios, is a result of the vast biodiversity screening work carried out by the Thanaplast™ project. After having been identified and isolated, this enzyme, which is a cornerstone of the bio-processes applied by Carbios to PLA (both for biodegradation and bio-recycling), is currently produced by the Center for Research and Innovation in Technology Transfer, and Carbios as part of their previously-announced formal collaboration.
These first productions have enabled Carbios and its teams to validate the general principles of the future process for producing this enzyme on an industrial scale. Moreover, these first batches have enabled the production of a "compound" based on biodegradable PLA obtained by including the enzyme during the extrusion process.</p><p>The next stage will entail producing the first commercial objects in PLA, such as soft and rigid food packaging, that are completely biodegradable under ambient conditions The enzyme that has been identified and isolated by Carbios effectively degrades plastic material made from PLA into lactic acid, a PLA monomer and metabolite that can be naturally assimilated by all living organisms
Carbios is a young, innovative green chemistry company, whose mission is to find biological solutions to the environmental and sustainable development issues faced by industrial businesses today. Carbios acquired the rights to research that was conducted over a number of years by various public and private sector laboratories.