Bioplastic developed by TAU researchers could rid the world of polluting plastic

Bioplastic developed by TAU researchers could rid the world of polluting plastic

A recent Tel Aviv University study describes a process to make seaweed-based polymers that require neither land or fresh water – resources that are scarce in many parts of the world

A bioplastic polymer derived from microorganisms that feed on seaweed is being investigated by researchers at Israel’s Tel Aviv University (TAU), the journal Bioresource Technology has recently reported. Completely biodegradable, this sustainable alternative to plastic produces zero toxic waste and recycles into organic waste.

The invention was the fruit of a multidisciplinary collaboration between Dr Alexander Golberg of TAU’s Porter School of Environmental and Earth Sciences and Professor Michael Gozin of TAU’s Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Chemistry. The research was partially funded by the TAU-Triangle Regional R&D Center in Kfar Kara under the academic auspices of Tel Aviv University and by the Israeli Ministry of Energy and Infrastructures.

“A partial solution to the plastic epidemic is bioplastics, which don’t use petroleum and degrade quickly,” said Golberg. “But bioplastics also have an environmental price. To grow the plants or the bacteria to make the plastic requires fertile soil and fresh water, which many countries – including Israel – don’t have. Our new process produces ‘plastic’ from marine microorganisms that completely recycle into organic waste.”

The researchers harnessed the seaweed-feeding microorganisms to produce a polymer called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). “Our raw material was multicellular seaweed, cultivated in the sea,” Golberg continued. “These algae were eaten by single-celled microorganisms, which also grow in very salty water and produce a polymer that can be used to make bioplastic.

“There are already factories that produce this type of bioplastic in commercial quantities, but they use plants that require agricultural land and fresh water. The process we propose will enable countries with a shortage of fresh water, such as Israel, China and India, to switch from petroleum-derived plastics to biodegradable plastics.

“We are currently conducting basic research to find the best bacteria and algae that would be most suitable for producing polymers for bioplastics with different properties.”

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