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Making plastics from natural products, not oil

Making plastics from natural products, not oil
By Robert Hackwill

Based in Italy’s Po River delta in the Italian north-east, biochemical company Novamont has opened the first plant in the world to make a chemical compound used in the production of plastics with renewable sources such as sugar and water.

The compound is called bio-butanediol and will be used primarily for biodegradable plastics for fruit and vegetable bags and shopping bags.

“Bio-butanediol is a highly-used chemical compound across different sectors like chemistry or electronics. It is consumed and used in a large amount of plastic products.
The big innovation here is the production of this compound by fermentation switching from a petrol-based chemistry to a water and sugar-based chemistry and thus much more environmentally friendly,” says Mater-Biotech Executive Director Stefano Dessi.

Until now, the industrial production of butanediol has only come from fossil fuel sources.

The transformation process from sugar to butanediol takes just a few days and it begins in a small sterile room through fermentation, for example by using e.coli-type bacteria.

“The first part of production happens in the laboratories and consists of preparing the inoculum. We begin with the frozen micro-organism culture inside the vial and we make it grow in a flask under controlled temperature. Once it has grown we transfer the inoculum to the fermentation phase,” says Mater-Biotech Quality Manager Enrico Casareto.

During the fermentation phase micro-organisms will transform sugar into bio-butanediol.

The use of this technique will increase the renewable content from 36% to 61% and it will decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 10-15%