Green chemistry company Carbios has managed to depolymerize 90 percent of polylactic acid (PLA) material — a thermoplastic aliphatic polyester derived from renewable resources — in only 48 hours, using its enzymatic process.
These results were obtained by the team from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research in Toulouse, France, and the Systems Biology and Process Engineering Laboratory, both of which are Carbios’ partners on the Thanaplast project.
The enzyme patented by Carbios induces the catalytic depolymerization of PLA waste at a rate that comes close to industrial performances, the company says. Such catalytic activity was tested on consumer goods made of PLA, including cups, trays, plastic films and flatware, whose semi-crystalline properties make it difficult for the enzyme to operate.
This performance marks the beginning of the production scale-up of Carbios’ bio-recycling process. It allows the company to contemplate a faster manufacturing process than had been initially scheduled.
PLA is the fastest-growing market in the plastic industry, credited with a 10 percent to 30 percent increase depending on the sources, Carbios says. With a relatively low yearly production of 200,000 tons, this bio-based plastic polymer also has a significant growth potential due to its extraordinary physical and chemical properties, which make it the main alternative to polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the primary plastic polymer used for plastic bottles and other packaging products. Compared to PET, PLA has two significant advantages: its biocompatibility (it is a material of choice for medical transplants and implants); and its perfect fit for 3D printing techniques.
The results obtained by Carbios with PLA will enable the company to expand its technology to other plastic polymers, including PET and PTT, the latter of which is the main component of carpets.