A new type of bioplastic could be produced from algae. Technologists are considering whether such a plastic can be manufactured on an industrial scale.
According to Your.is, scientists are close to creating a type of bioplastic. This would be a variant of polyesters and polyolefins, made from microscopic algae. What algae do is provide the building block for plastics: long chain hydrocarbons, a material similar to the current precursor used for plastics production.
At present only tiny amounts of plastic have been produced from studies undertaken in conjunction with the University of California. Here research has demonstrated that biological reactions on cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) can convert carbon dioxide into the chemical feedstock 2,3 butanediol.
The main research is being conducted by scientists working for the SPLASH research project, funded by the European Union. SPLASH is an acronym for Sustainable PoLymers from Algae Sugars and Hydrocarbons. The project comprises twenty partners, of which 55% are SMEs and large enterprises and the remaining 45% are universities and research institutes.
According to a SPLASH press release: “SPLASH will deliver knowledge, tools and technologies needed for the establishment of a new industry sector: Industrial Biotechnology based on algae and/or algal genes for the manufacture of polyesters and polyolefins.”
Algae are a potentially useful natural resource because they proliferate quickly and are found in abundance. Although a bioplastic has been produced, scientists do not yet think that they have found the right type of algae for large scale production. It could be that a genetically altered algae is required.
Technologists are now addressing the challenge of making high-quality, affordable plastics from algae. The key questions are: can the plastic be produced at an appropriate cost on a large scale? and is the plastic of an equivalent quality to chemically produced materials?