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Issue 06/2018

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  • Bioplastics
  • Plastics
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  • Algae
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bioplasticsMAGAZINE_1806

Bioplastics from waste

Bioplastics from waste streams Is Algae a sustainable feedstock for bioplastics? As demand for bioplastics grows, the industry is starting to feel the challenge of finding sustainable biofeedstock. Algae appears to be a promising source [1]. Algae can be both grown commercially, or harvested from commercial and industrial processes, such as water treatment. Growing algae commercially for bioplastics applications Algae is already commercially grown for nutraceuticals (e.g. Omega 3 EPA/DHA), cosmetics, food and animal feed supplements, according to Barry Cohen, President of The National Algae Association (The Woodlands,Texas, USA). Cohen notes that algae is a microorganism that doubles in population every couple of days. Cohen estimates that an algae producer would need only 60 days to cultivate a particular strain for client review, testing, and certification. Another 60-90 days may be required to fulfill a large volume order suitable for bioplastics. Algae strains suitable for bioplastics have already been proven in the lab. Cohen notes that the biggest challenge to growing algae for bioplastics is finding a client who can fund 30-40% of the contract price upfront to fulfill a large volume order quickly. The industry is self-funded and even though producers can scale easily into commercial production, they have limited resources to bear large volume production expenditures alone. Partnerships within the greater supply chain will be required to get commercially-grown algae into large-scale bioplastics production. Harvesting algae from existing water treatment processes Algae thrives in our wastewater and other high-nutrient (i.e. polluted) environments. While its presence helps filter harmful nutrients out of the water, its overgrowth in nutrientrich conditions is also a menace [2] to freshwater supplies. There is a rising demand to contain algae overgrowth in waterways and reduce the water nutrient levels that support algae. This can be done while harvesting algae to generate feedstock for bioplastics and other applications. Two innovative start-ups are seizing this opportunity: Working with a wastewater treatment byproduct Kelvin Okamoto is the Founder and CEO of Gen3Bio (West Lafayette, Indiana, USA), an innovative company that converts algae into biofeedstock for resale using a proprietary blend of enzymes. Okamoto noted that Gen3Bio harvests the algae from treatment processes that filter problematic nutrients from wastewater. Gen3Bio has a mobile pilot facility that hooks into the nutrient removal systems at wastewater treatment plants, utilizing its own blends of algae to do the job. Gen3Bio then harvests the spent algae for processing and resale. The company plans to share a percentage of net revenue from the sale of the resulting algae biofeedstock with wastewater facilities. The main outputs of Gen3Bio’s operation include sugars, fats, and proteins from the spent algae. Gen3Bio ferments sugars extracted from the algae to produce succinic acid. Succinic acid (cf. bM 03/2013) has multiple uses; among them, it is a common ingredient in the production of polybutylene succinate (PBS) (cf. bM 05/2016 and [3, 4]). PBS is a biodegradable thermoplastic with properties similar to polypropylene. It is sometimes blended with PLA. It can be used for the production of both durables (e.g. fishnets, automotive composites) and non-durables (e.g. food packaging, disposable cups). Harvesting algae out of our water supply While Gen3Bio harvests spent algae from a wastewater treatment process, Omega Material Sciences filters problematic algae directly out of the water. Omega Material Sciences (Lakeland, Florida Area, USA) is an R&D lab that is working on a large-scale source of algae feedstock for bioplastics. Its founder, Keith Ervin, has developed a water treatment media to safely extract algae blooms from both freshwater and wastewater at high volumes. Ervin notes that traditional approaches to algae remediation cannot generate biofeedstock at meaningful scales because they kill off algae, leading the organism to emit toxins into the water upon their demise. Ervin’s method leads to chemical and mechanical separation of algae blooms from water, making it safe and effective in producing clean water and harvesting the algae at a commercial scale. Ervin has received significant attention from the water treatment community for his technology. Building the infrastructure to harvest his algae at scale to feed the demand for bioplastics will require collaboration and investment across industries, however. Ervin is looking for partners and stakeholders to make this happen. Algae-based materials may already be in your shoes Algae is already making an appearance in consumer products. Algix, a company located in Meridian, Mississippi, USA, has been producing a plastic composite out of algae for some years. The algae is combined with traditional plastics to create Algix’ Solaplast line of resins, which are approximately 45 % algae. Ryan Hunt, Co-Founder and CTO at Algix, stated that the algae acts as a biobased filler in the Solaplast resins, lowering the environmental footprint of the resulting composite. 22 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/18] Vol. 13

Bioplastics from waste streams By: Joanna Malaczynski Consultant DESi Potential Bend, Oregon, USA Algix’ daughter company, Bloom, converts the algae composite into an EVA foam that can be used in consumer goods. Bloom’s algae foam can already be found in some flip flops, running shoes, and even surfboard traction pads. The company is launching products with companies such as Adidas, Altra Running, BOGS, Clark’s, Toms, Vivobarefoot (see p. 35, EcoAlf, Billabong, Saola, TenTree, Red Wings, Slater Design, Surftech, Biota and Chippewa. Hunt noted that most of the algae used by his company is a wastewater treatment by-product. Algix likes working with wastewater algae because it contains high levels of proteins, that can be used as building-blocks for certain bioplastics. Hunt noted that algae living in nutrient rich conditions, such as wastewater and our overly-fertilized waterways [5], is especially productive in producing these proteins. Is algae suitable for food-grade plastics? Algae could be an effective biofeedstock for food-grade plastics. Many American commercial algae growers already produce a food-grade product for other markets. With the right business partner, they could shift to food-grade production for bioplastics. Companies who work with wastewater algae, on the other hand, have yet to seek FDA approval for food-grade use, and it remains to be seen to what extent this would be a viable proposition for them. An emerging Oregon start-up, AlgoteK, has produced an algae-based food-grade film, sourcing its algae from China. The AlgoteK film degrades in contact with water, which makes it suitable for certain single-use applications. David Crinnion, Co-Founder of AlgoteK, noted that he is committed to working with the biobased material in its purest form because it is easily compostable and biodegradeable. AlgoteK recently caught the interest of a local chocolate manufacturer, which is interested in utilizing AlgoteK’s algae-based material for its packaging. Gen3Bio Pilot Plant Equipment Billabon flipflops References [1] https://www.fastcompany.com/90154210/the-creators-of-this-algaeplastic-want-to-start-a-maker-revolution [2] https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/harmful-algal-blooms [3] https://www.m-chemical.co.jp/en/products/departments/mcc/ sustainable/product/1201025_7964.html [4] http://www.succinity.com/polybutylene-succinate [5] http://news.wfsu.org/post/engineering-bioplastics-firms-debut-cuttingedge-algae-removal-process SlaterDesign Algae Traction Pad Vivobarefoot Ultra Bloom running shoes https://desipotential.com | www.gen3bio.com | http://algix.com | https://bloomfoam.com bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/18] Vol. 13 23

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