Scientists have developed a method for producing cheaper 'bioplastics' made from used cooking oil combined with certain microorganisms. This would not only lead to cheaper plastics, it would also help with environmental recycling.
'Bioplastics' are a special type of plastic produced by materials synthesized by microbes. Although scientists have understood the mechanisms for sometime it has not proved possible to produce plastics on a larger and commercially viable scale due to cost of the starting materials. This is according to a research note from the Society for General Microbiology.
Now, however, a scientific team based at University of Wolverhampton have proposed using waste cooking oil as the starting material (which prompted Plastics Today to herald the discovery as "from fish & chips waste oil to medical fibers"). The process involves growing bacteria in large fermenters to produce high quantities of bioplastics.
According to Discovery News, the scientists selected a bacterium called Ralstonia eutropha H16. This bacterium grew well in the oil, producing sufficient numbers to synthesize the oil within 48 hours. Each bacterium produced a few nanofibers of plastic, yet when this was run with several million bacteria sufficient quantities of plastic were produced. The process produced three times more PHB compared with existing processes.
This process leads to the creation of a class of plastics called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), which is a term applied to a family of polyesters. From the development, the scientists consider that high-quality plastics suitable for medical implants could be manufactured on a large scale at a low cost.
A second advantage with the process is that it would potentially reduce environmental contamination from oil, with the added benefit that the plastics produced are biodegradable.
The research was led by Dr Iza Radecka.