SYNPOL is working to convert the 200 million tons of household waste generated by Europeans every year into biodegradable plastics using microwaves and engineered microbes. The group’s process is based on pyrolysis, but requires lower temperatures than most pyrolysis processes and produces syngas richer in carbon monoxide and hydrogen. These gases are then fed to bacteria, which produce ethanol. Because ethanol is so cheap, however, SYNPOL coordinator José Luis Garcia, of the Spanish National Research Council, tells Horizon Magazine it makes sense to target bioplastics. He admits, however, that output is still too low to be economically viable.
The BioREFINE-2G project, also EU-funded, has been developing the science behind turning wood into sustainable products. The team, led by Dr. Irina Borodina of the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability in Denmark, applied CRISPR gene-editing technology to develop a yeast that was able to process resistant pentose sugars in wood waste streams into plastic dicarboxylic acids—building blocks for bioplastics.