Biome Bioplastics' research project demonstrates feasibility of extracting organic chemicals from lignin for the manufacture of bioplastics; lignin, a waste product of the pulp and paper industry, could represent a low-cost feedstock for chemical industry

, June 19, 2014 (press release) – A research project led by Biome Bioplastics has demonstrated the feasibility of extracting organic chemicals from lignin for the manufacture of bioplastics.

The results stem from a grant from the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board, awarded to a consortium led by Biome Bioplastics in early 2013 to investigate lignin as a new source of organic chemicals for bioplastics manufacture, which could signficantly reduce costs and increase performance of these sustainable materials.

Lignin is a complex hydrocarbon that helps to provide structural support in plants and trees. As a waste product of the pulp and paper industry, lignin is a potentially abundant and low-cost feedstock for the high performance chemicals that could provide the foundation for the next generation of bioplastics.

The research was undertaken in conjunction with the University of Warwick’s Centre for Biotechnology and Biorefining led by Professor Tim Bugg, whose team has been working to develop methods to control the breakdown of lignin using bacteria and extract these chemicals in significant quantities.

The project has successfully demonstrated that bacteria can be effective in the selective degradation of lignin, and that the breakdown pathway can be controlled and improved using synthetic biology. Crucially, several organic chemicals have been produced at laboratory scale in promising yields that have potential use in bioplastic manufacture.

Initial scale-up trials on several of these target chemicals have demonstrated the potential for them to be produced at industrial scale, suggesting the commercial feasibility of using lignin-derived chemicals as an alternative for their petrochemical counterparts. Biome Bioplastics has also transformed these chemicals into a material that shows promising properties for use as an advanced bioplastic.

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