Micromidas, a Californian company is exploring the potential to produce bioplastics from wastewater !
The economics of the industrial chemicals and materials industry are driven, for a given product, by feedstock, processing costs, and market price. Within each of these primary drivers there exists a subset of levers which can be used to manipulate the economics of the system. The proposition of the renewable movement has been that a shift in feedstock coupled with alternative conversion and processing will produce a substitute product with the additive effect of reducing the expenditure of finite resources.
The choice of feedstock is constrained by conversion technology. Consequently, preference of feedstock has necessarily been balanced against the performance risk of unproven conversion technologies. To hedge against risk associated with the development of the feedstock infrastructure and pre-processing, feedstock choice has been largely confluent across conversion platforms. This has amplified inefficiencies in feedstock choice, such as seasonality, logistics, and capacity ramp, and made them endemic to the renewable movement.
Micromidas’ goal is to decouple biological products from their feedstock by applying a carefully constructed microbial population that is capable of consuming a variety of materials—including waste.
Micromidas’ initial commercialization effort is the production of polyhydroxyalkanoates— bio-degradable, renewably-derived plastics.
Another European compagny is also making PHA while treating waste water: AnoxKaldnes
With the AnoxKaldnes (Veolia Water) approach, the feedstock is a biomass created from organic matter that is removed from wastewater, such as what’s left over from pulp and paper production. The sludge is enhanced with nutrients and oxygen, and then the bugs go to work. The basic idea is that bacteria and other organisms store PHA as a source of carbon and energy for their survival. Researchers at AnoxKaldnes have been able to boost PHA content to 42 percent of sludge by dry weight.
Projected PHA prices from current commercial ventures are in the $2.25 to $2.75 per pound range. The competitive oil-based plastics are priced below $1 per pound. The prices from the new wastewater process are expected to be closer to oil-based plastics.
Good to know about PHA:
Commercial ventures scaling up PHA production using fermentation processes include Telles, USA ; Biomer Biotechnology Co., Germany; PHB Industrial, Brazil; Mitsubishi Gas Chemical, Japan; Kaneka, Japan; Biomatera, Italy; Jiangsu Nantian Group, China; Tianan Biologic Material, China; and Lianyi Biotech, China.