Innovate UK Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst Grant; BBSRC (2016 - 2019)
The project is a joint collaboration between the University of York (lead research organisation), EPSRC (co-funder) and Biome Technologies (Project Partner).
Plastics are produced on an enormous scale, both within the UK and globally, and are used in functional products all around us. The vast majority of plastics are currently produced from no-renewable depleting fossil resources, predominately crude oil. There has been recent widespread research into the conversion of sustainable and renewable biomass to monomers and polymers, ideally looking to utilise the most abundant form of waste biomass, lignocellulose. Biome's (company lead) overall strategy is to produce novel highly functional polyesters from this lignocellulose by using industrial biotechnology. This project with the Universities of York and Liverpool will take lignocellulose-derived aromatic diacids (monomers) and utilise enzymes in a multi-step polymerisation to produce a targeted group of novel copolymers and explore their properties. The project will also determine whether this biocatalysis can be undertaken in-situ of the diacid production and will provide quantities of bio-derived plastics to be assessed for their potential in high value markets, and will also demonstrate the capability of the bio-catalytic reactions to be scaled to >1 kg. Previous work (supported by Innovate UK) has already demonstrated that the aromatic diacids can be produced from both lignin and cellulose using both engineered bacteria/enzymes and a scale-up for diacid formation is already underway. These diacids have already been used to make the first small quantities of novel polyester copolymers (with exciting preliminary properties), prompting this project application. This project will additionally contribute to the development of these novel bio-derived polymers through the assessment of induced chain-branching, thus altering their physical properties and eventual application. It will also undertake initial investigations into the end-of-life options for these polymers, including breaking them back down to monomer units, ensuring that after product use their environmental footprint will be minimised.