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Issue 06/2017

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News From Science &

News From Science & Research Aconitic acid as a building block Scientists at the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib) from Graz, Austria, succeeded in using the mold Aspergillus niger to produce aconitic acid – a new raw material and important building block (with three carboxylic acid groups) for the production of non-toxic bioplastics. Thereby, acib sets a further, important step in the manufacturing process of chemical compounds from renewable resources to end our dependence on fossil resources for the well-being of our planet. The most amazing innovations are still coming from mother nature: For example, molds are chemical specialists who can produce a number of products by fermentation from renewable raw materials, e.g. antibiotics, additives for detergents or acidulants for the food industry. They are very important for the industry, since - for more than 50 years - molds have been the main production vehicle of citric acid, which in its quantity is a prominent product for all kinds of applications. Therefore, acib scientists questioned if the black fungi can do even more than they would have expected. Old fungus, new tricks In cooperation with the Dutch University of Leiden, scientists at acib found a way to modify this fungus to produce another organic acid, namely aconitic acid. “We discovered a protein of another fungus, which is able to transport aconitic acid out from the mitochondria, the power house of the cell”, explains acib researcher and project manager Matthias Steiger. After insertion of this protein, Aspergillus niger produces the biochemical for the first time in a controlled bioprocess. The research results have been published in the prestigious scientific journal “Metabolic Engineering”. A further step for bio-based products So far, aconitic acid – which got its name by the eponymous plant Aconitum napellus – was isolated as a by-product of sugar-beet. In very small quantities it also occurs as part of the metabolism in the cells of every living organism, including humans. There, it allows the conversion of sugars and fats into energy. Thanks to this new production method, aconitic acid will be of particular interest and entails great potential for the chemical industry. “Esters of aconitic acid can e.g. serve as building blocks for the production of biopolymers and therefore have the ability to replace mineral oil based polymers. Furthermore, they are suitable as a non-toxic alternative for plasticizers, for the use as a wetting agent or as precursor for other chemicals”, explains Diethard Mattanovich, BOKU-professor and acib-key-researcher. It will take a few more years until the process will be ready for an industrial implementation. Nevertheless, the acid is attributed with great potential. Mattanovich: “This is an important milestone for the renewable production of chemical products in tomorrow’s bioeconomy in order to end the dependence on fossil fuels. MT Flexible barrier film Biodegradable flexible multilayer structures for medium-barrier food packaging The RECUBIO project, led by Plásticos Romero, Molina de Segura, Spain, has enabled the development medium-barrier biodegradable PLA-based packages for the food sector from complex structures. The manufacturer of blown film collaborated with AIMPLAS, a Plastics Technology Centre located in Valencia, Spain, on a project aimed at the production of sustainable packaging from complex structures. This project, called Recubio, ran for a period of 18 months and was funded by Spanish National Program for R&D Activities, CDTI (Centro para el Desarrollo Tecnológico Industrial). Multilayer packaging offers a host of advantages in terms of mechanical properties, sealability, gas barrier properties, as well as the packaging process, from which the packaged products benefit. In 2015, more than 440,000 tonnes of flexible plastic packages were used in Spain, according to the Spanish Statistical Office, the equivalent of a turnover of about one million euros. The problem is that this complex film is obtained by means of lamination processes with adhesives of different plastic films, so it is a mixture of materials with different origin, which is virtually impossible to recycle. Fortunately, over the past several years, interest in biodegradable materials in the packaging sector has grown. These materials can provide an alternative and sustainable end of life. Within the scope of the Recubio project, Plásticos Romero, worked to develop a sustainable alternative which is technically feasible and to find a solution for the current main limitation of biodegradable materials: the oxygen and water vapour barrier properties. In the Recubio project, a coating technology was applied to address this issue. A coating was applied to a biodegradable film to give it the required barrier properties. The final complex structure formed by this coated film that, was subsequently laminated with a three-layer structure providing rigidity and sealability to the final packaging, as well as protection to the barrier coating. The result is a complex final structure suitable for food packaging requiring medium barrier properties, such as bakery, fresh or frozen products. MT | 36 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/17] Vol. 12

News From Science & Research Application News From municipal waste to bioplastics Electric scooter from biobased materials The recently launched European URBIOFIN BBI-project will focus on converting the organic fraction of municipal solid waste on a semi-industrial scale. The project, that looks into the techno-economic and environmental feasibility will create chemical building blocks, biopolymers and/or additives using the biorefinery concept urban biorefinery. Ultimately, URBIOFIN offers a new feasible and more sustainable scenario alternative to the current treatment of the organic fraction of municipal solid waste. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research focuses on two specific topics in this project: the production of medium-chain length fatty acids and derived PHAs via microbial fermentation, and the scale-up, efficient extraction and novel commercial applications of these bioplastics. As a building block for high quality products, sustainable fatty acids have interesting market applications says Hans Mooibroek, project manager at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. “‘In this project we are focusing on the conversion of fatty acids to PHAs. A key advantage of these microbial plastics is that they are produced from renewable resources and are completely bio-degradable. Our specific objective is to produce so-called medium chain length PHAs (mcl- PHAs), which are suitable for high value applications such as biodegradable agricultural plastics or biomaterials for the cosmetics industry.” Two-step fermentation process The production of PHAs occurs in stages, Mooibroek explains: “In the first step, we use short chain fatty acids from solid biomass and employ our intricate knowledge on fermentation technology. We put a yeast to work that converts the carbohydrates into longer chain fatty acids. We have a considerable track record on mcl-fatty acid production and mcl PHA-production using the yeast Cryptococcus curvatus and the soil bacterium Pseudomonas putida respectively. Both organisms grow well on a variety of agricultural side streams. In the URBIOFIN project both fermentation processes will be combined to produce mcl-PHAs efficiently.” Transferring knowledge to commercial partners URBIOFIN is a typical BBI demonstration project, Mooibroek explains: “We carry the technology that we develop in our lab on to partners who want to apply the process on an industrial scale. Together with our research partner AINIA from Valencia, which produces short chain fatty acids and PHAs from waste, we have recently visited another Spanish partner IRIAF/ Clamber (providing upscaling services especially for research demo projects) to make sure that they have the knowledge and facilities for scaling up the fermentation and downstream processes.” Bringing the various PHAs to market is the task of commercial partners Stéfany Emballages Services (SES, France, packaging materials) and NaturePlast (France, supporting bioplastics applications development). The 16 project partners in URBIOFIN are located in eight European countries, with Spanish engineering company IMECAL coordinating the project. MT Sustainable mobility has been given a shot in the arm with the introduction of the Be.e. The Be.e is the first electric scooter that was designed, developed and manufactured, with structural parts made from biocomposites. The scooter was introduced in Amsterdam on September 12. And it has more going for it than its sustainability credentials alone: developed in collaboration with design studio Waarmakers, much time and creativity also went into its look& feel. The result is an alluring two-wheeler with distinctive lines and character, with attention for details such as handstitched saddles, available in vinyl or leather; or the integrated generously-sized windscreen, impregnated with a nano coating for outstanding wet-weather vision. The wide tires provide good grip and stability on uneven ground; LED lights, indicators and side running lights make sure you can see and be seen at all times. The Be.e has a body made of biocomposite, in this case, hemp fibres from Groningen in the norther part of the Netherlands in a matrix of partly biobased structure that at the same time is designed to perform. The drive train is top of the bill. The scooter features a 4kW motor (highest in its class) and a 2.5kWh Li-ion battery that comes with a 4 year or 1000 cycle guarantee, ensuring long range with more power and torque. The on-board charger completely recharges the battery in just 4 hours; topping up in between is no problem. Range anxiety is a thing of the past: the display accurately shows the distance that can be travelled on the current battery charge. The Be.e also has a reverse gear, making it easy to manoeuvre under difficult conditions. The development of the Be.e was made possible by a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2015. Angel investors and the first launching customers provided an extra boost in realizing the first 8 Be.e scooters. These will be delivered and on the road in just a few weeks. MT bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/17] Vol. 12 37

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