TECHNOLOGY

A French company uses enzymes to recycle one of the most popular single-use plastics


Because single-use plastics are largely derived from petroleum, by 2050 Plastic may account for 20% of the world’s annual oil consumption. Reducing our dependence on plastic, and finding ways to reuse the plastic that already exists in the world, can dramatically reduce emissions.

Now, just about 15% of all plastics It is collected all over the world for recycling every year. Since the 1990s, researchers have been trying to find new ways to break down plastic in the hope of recycling more of it. Companies and researchers have worked to develop enzymatic processes, such as those used in Carbius as well chemical processesLike the way he uses it ring industries. But only recently have enzymatic and chemical processes begun to commercialize.

The new Karbius reactor has a volume of 20 cubic meters – the size of a cargo truck. It can contain two metric tons of plastic, or the equivalent of about 100,000 bottles milled at a time, and break it down into PET building blocks — ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid — in 10 to 16 hours.

The company plans to use what it learned from the pilot facility to build its first industrial plant, which will house a reactor about 20 times larger than the pilot one. This large-scale plant will be built near a plastics plant somewhere in Europe or the US, and should be up and running by 2025, he says Alan Marty, chief science officer of Karpius.

Carbios has been developing enzymatic recycling since the company was founded in 2011. Its process relies on enzymes to break down the long chains of polymers that make up plastic. The resulting monomers can then be purified and bonded together to make new plastic. The Karbius researchers started with a natural enzyme that bacteria use to break up leaves, then modified it to make it more efficient at breaking down PET.

Carpius demonstration facility in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Image courtesy of SkotchProd.

Carbios estimates that its enzymatic recycling process reduces greenhouse gas emissions by about 30% compared to virgin PET. Marty says he expects that number to increase as they work on the problems.

at recent days Report, researchers estimated that making PET from enzymatic recycling could reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 17% and 43% compared to making virgin PET. The report wasn’t about Carbios specifically, but it’s likely a good estimate of its operation, according to Greg Beckham, a researcher at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co-author of the report.

While the development of new enzymes has been a major focus of new research and commercial efforts, other parts of the process will determine how efficient and effective the technology is, says Beckham, who leads consortium On new plastic recycling and production methods.

“It’s all less glamorous things,” Beckham says, like turning plastic into a form that enzymes can efficiently break down or separating what the enzymes spew out, which can consume a lot of energy and time, increase emissions and costs.



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