Michael Kanellos: October 19, 2009

Bioplastics for Hospitals, Electron Beams for Cleaning Bottles

Germs. Kill ‘em all and let the recycler sort ‘em out. Pharmafilter is adopting bioplastics from Metabolix, while Advanced Electron Beans has branded its sterilization tech.

Another week, another round of news about how to kill germs before they kill you.

Pharmafilter, which is developing a materials recycling system for hospitals, said it will adopt bioplastics from Metabolix to produce bed pans, trash bags and plastic tableware (but won't likely draw a connection between the three in its marketing).

The idea behind Pharmafilter is to recycle food, solid waste and water consumed in hospitals. The solid waste streams are ground up, cycled through anaerobic digesters packed with material-munching microbes and then transformed into biogases that can be burned, biomass for boilers, and clean water. Bioplastics and other items can be plucked out of the morass on their own and recycled back into their former selves as well. Other companies exploit digesters to convert manure to methane.

The initial pilot project for Pharmafilter is scheduled to begin in March 2010 at Delft Hospital in Amsterdam. The project, no doubt, will be scrutinized intensely because of the health risks associated with recycling hospital waste.

Although it hasn't been showered with VC funds like solar, recycling is gaining ground with investors and researchers. Some startups have proposed mining waste streams for minerals, methane and/or irrigation water.

Bioplastics have been around for years, but the high price has kept them toward the edges of the market. In recent years, however, the prices have dropped and larger manufacturers have stepped up their activities. Metabolix, for instance, is building a commercial scale bioplastic facility in Iowa with agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland.

Speaking of plastic, Advanced Electron Beams unveiled an umbrella brand, Blu, for its electron beam sterilization equipment. The recently released e25ITB, for example, emits a beam designed to efficiently sterilize the interior of bottles. Purfresh has a similar bottle system – several bottled water companies employ it – that sterilizes with ozone.

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