Can Bioplastics Become Commercially Viable?

One of the more promising new innovations in the environmentally friendly products industry is bioplastics, which are synthesized naturally from microbes rather than from petroleum. The fact is that all of those plastic containers you throw in the trash every day are derived from the same oil that is used to make gasoline, and it's just as bad sitting in a landfill as it is being burned in an internal combustion engine. This is why scientists have tried to come up with other ways to create plastic that is more sustainable.

Bioplastics offer such a promise, but the problem researchers have run into is that these materials are expensive to produce. Typically, they're manufactured using giant fermenting tanks full of bacteria, which harvest glucose to produce Poly 3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB), a substance commonly used in plastics. This process is energy intensive and takes a lot of resources to pull off.

But EarthTechling, a clean technology news site, reports that new research presented at the 2012 Society for General Microbiology's Autumn Conference may provide a solution to the problem. Scientists were able to create bioplastics from bacteria raised in used cooking oil. The microbes produced three times as much PHB, and the process kills two birds with one stone as the researchers were able to make use of kitchen waste that is often tossed out.

If successfully scaled up, these bioplastics could be used in the manufacture of prosthetics and other medical devices. This would be a boon for patients, who could receive replacement limbs for a fraction of their current cost.

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