New PHA pathway could open up new applications

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In California, chemists at Colorado State University are optimizing a new route to a bioplastic  in the hopes it will increase industrial production and adoption.

Eugene Chen, professor in the Department of Chemistry, is leading chemical catalysis work to improve the efficiency, scalability, and properties of a class of biomaterials known as polyhydroxyalkanoates.

PHAs, a type of polyester, can be used to make biodegradable bioplastics. Despite a significant push to replace biopersistent plastics with an eco-friendlier alternative, adoption of PHAs is hindered by production cost and difficulty achieving necessary properties.

Chen and colleagues have developed a new polymerization method that improves PHAs’ mechanical and physical properties while lowering production cost, opening up new applications.

“We wanted to solve the bottleneck issue,” Chen said. “How can we develop the chemical catalysis pathway to this fantastic class of biodegradable plastics so that you have, basically, scalability, fast production and tunability to make different PHAs? … That was the motivation.”

The work is published in a recent issue of the journal Science.