Marine biotechnology could solve plastics crisis

KETmaritime is a €1million project that aims to transfer Key Enabling Technologies KETmaritime is a €1million project that aims to transfer Key Enabling Technologies

New advances in marine-based biotechnology involve algae, crabs and prawns could help tackle the global plastic crisis according to an ongoing EU study.

A detailed report released by a consortium of leading European scientists shows that biodegradable biopolymers created from the sea have the potential to compete with traditional plastics - while crucially offering a more environmentally friendly alternative.

The study on ‘Marine Industrial Biotechnology’ is part of the €1million KETmaritime project, funded by the Interreg Atlantic Area Program, via the EU’s European Regional Development Fund.

Project coordinator Ana Vila from the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL) said the global bioplastics and biopolymers market is projected to surpass $5Billion by 2021.

“We are witnessing a major global movement as countries around the world are looking to prohibit or limit the use of conventional plastics,” she said. “There is growing pressure to find more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives. Recent advances in the production of biopolymers from marine sources such as algae, crabs, shrimp and prawn waste are proving hugely successful. A key attraction is the ‘biodegradability’ factor which could help reduce the problem of marine litter - considered by the European Commission as one of the largest current threats to the environment.

“Our latest study highlights a number of companies who are already putting the technology into practice including Netherlands firm Studio Klarenbeek & Dros working alongside Atelier Luma in France to develop algae-based biopolymers to compete with traditional plastics. The material can be applied on an industrial scale and processed like traditional plastic. It has proven to be suitable for injection moulding with 3D printing processes. Meanwhile, in Italy, Algamoil and Teregroup are also working on the development of 100pc biodegradable plastic made with algae in the form of filaments.”

The most important bio-based biodegradable biopolymers are PHAs (Polyhydroxyalkanoates) and PLAs (Polylactic acid). PHA polymers are thermoplastic and can be transformed by means of injection-moulding to produce films and sheet, fibres, laminates, nonwoven fabrics and adhesives. PLA is also a thermoplastic polymer that can replace traditional polymers such as PET, PS, and PC for packaging applications.

KETmaritime is a €1million project that aims to transfer Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) to the Maritime Industries of the Atlantic Area.

By Jake Frith

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