Innovation That Matters

A biofunctionalised film with embedded enzymes being produced in the pilot plant | Photo source Fraunhofer IAP

Method developed to produce self-degrading plastics


Researchers have developed a method for embedding enzymes in plastic, which could result in the creation of self-degrading plastics

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Spotted: By now, we all know that plastics are a highly unsustainable product. However, what if plastic could be more than one thing? What if enzymes could be embedded in the plastic to give it different capabilities, such as degrading itself to avoid polluting the environment? Up to now, this approach has not been workable because plastics are processed at temperatures too high for enzymes withstand. Now, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research may have an answer. 

The researchers have developed a way to stabilise the enzymes using porous inorganic carriers. The enzymes bind to the carriers by embedding in the pores. This restricts the enzymes’ mobility, but allows them to remain active and withstand much higher temperatures. However, the scientists note that the inorganic carriers and embedding process needs to be tailored to accommodate different enzymes. 

The process works for both bioplastics and for conventional petroleum-based plastics. The researchers have already evaluated the process for use with protease enzymes. Proteases can break up proteins, so they can provide a self-cleaning effect. For example, preventing plastic pipes from clogging up. They are also focusing on ways to embed enzymes that will degrade plastics. 

Thomas Büsse who heads the institute’s processing pilot plant for biopolymers explained that the technique allows the plastics to be used as normal, saying that “Although far more difficult, this technique also prevents signs of wear on the material surface affecting the functionality of the plastics”. 

The work at Frauhofer joins a host of other innovations reported on here at Springwise that seek to reduce plastic waste of minimise the use of petroleum-based plastics. Some recent advances have included a chemical process that converts plastics into the components for jet fuel and a parabolic floating device that collects ocean plastic.  

Written By: Lisa Magloff

Explore more: Science Innovations | Sustainability Innovations



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