Thanks to Todd Kimmel of Mayfield Fund and overall green chemistry fan for updating us on this one.
Last year, we wrote about how Kevin O'Connor at University of College Dublin had come up with a way to recycle old plastic bottles and containers with microorganisms
. The bugs eat a cooked down version of a plastic bottle and metabolize it into new, saleable molecules. If I could do that, I'd never leave home.
The plastic that comes out of the digestive process is also biodegradable. It can go safely into a landfill and will disappear over time.
O'Connor has since formed a company, called Bioplastech, to commercialize it. CrapPlastic is funner, but might spook investors.
If the process can be brought up to an industrial level, it could help the world get rid of the nation-sized mass of plastic that humanity has generated. Right now, there are two general ways of dealing with old plastic.
Some countries, like England and Ireland, ship it to other countries after doing the green thing and recycling. Plastic bottles have a low recycling value; hence, a lot of the plastic ends up in landfills forever. (But the Irish are big into recycling — a 15 cent tax on plastic bags dropped their use by over 99 percent, O’Connor said.)
The other method to “recycle??? plastic is to burn it. Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and other countries practice it. It yields useable energy, but it’s not the cleanest practice in the world either.
Bioplastech’s process works like this. Polypropylene (plastic) is cooked until it turns into a styrene oil. The oil is then fed to microorganisms, which metabolically turn it into globules of fatty acids.
When 60 percent of the bacteria consists of those fatty acids, the microorganism is split open and the harvested fatty acids are converted to a biodegradable plastic. See why bacteria make such good workers?
Keep your eye on Ireland in cleantech and advance science, by the way. For years, the Irish tech industry primarily concentrated on serving as an outsourcing destination for multinationals. But in about 2000, the government — realizing that Ireland was no longer a low-cost center — began to invest in technology transfer center and incubators.