Environmental Plastic Discovery

News from South Korea is that scientists have succeeded in creating plastic without the use of fossil fuels.


The scientists created sustainable polymers used in common plastics that could replace traditional polymers that use chemicals from fossil fuels. The bioengineered polymers may be what is needed to create truly green-friendly plastic products.

This research is now published in two papers in the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering.

The research team was from KAIST University and the Korean chemical company LG Chem. With Professor Sang Yup Lee in the lead, the team focused their research on polyactic acid (PLA), “a bio-based polymer which holds the key to producing plastics through natural and renewable resources.”

“The polyesters and other polymers we use everyday are mostly derived from fossil oils made through the refinery or chemical process,” said Lee. “The idea of producing polymers from renewable biomass has attracted much attention due to the increasing concerns of environmental problems and the limited nature of fossil resources. PLA is considered a good alternative to petroleum based plastics as it is both biodegradable and has a low toxicity to humans.”

The method the researchers have developed is relatively efficient and commercially viable, according to the researchers.

Lee gives hope that this method they developed for creating PLA and “lactate-containing copolymers” from a renewable source could be used to create more polymers using sustainable methods and renewable resources. “Global warming and other environmental problems are urging us to develop sustainable processes based on renewable resources,” Lee commented. “This new strategy should be generally useful for developing other engineered organisms capable of producing various unnatural polymers by direct fermentation from renewable resources.”

This looks like a good step forward in the world of plastic. Hope to see this sustainable plastic used commercially soon and more breakthroughs in this area.

via ScienceDaily

Related Stories:
1) Study: Bio-Based Plastics Could Viably Replace Nearly All Plastics
2) Recycled Plastic Outperforms Wood, Steel and Concrete Alternatives

Image Credit 1: the_amanda via flickr under a Creative Commons license
Image Credit 2: m4r00n3d via flickr under a Creative Commons license
Image Credit 3: lepiaf.geo via flickr under a Creative Commons license

  • http://solardecklights.iblogger.org/ Earle@ Solar Deck Lights

    I am elated when I heard about this new technology. Most renewable solutions usually are not commercially viable, however based upon what I have read about PLA so far it seems very promising :-). My heart sings because I truly believe we need to live closer to nature and that we should seek and produce natural solutions for our living needs.

  • http://www.ensobottles.com Max

    PLA is being heralded as the new plastic that is going to save us from ourselves. PLA is getting a lot of spin from corporate marketing departments with a lot of money and spin talent. We consumers aren’t all that good at separating the wheat from the chaff, but if we want a better environment, we should start getting environmentally smarter. Here is part of a study that discusses PLA. If you want to read more go to the hypertext and learn more about PLA. PLA sounds like a good idea and I believe it has its place as a niche plastic…I shudder to think what our environment will look like should PLA be manufactured in the quantities of today’s plastics.

    “The conclusions from our analyses were inescapable. The environmental benefit of growing plastic in plants is overshadowed by unjustifiable increases in energy consumption and gas emissions. PLA seems to be the only plant-based plastic that has a chance of becoming competitive in this regard. Though perhaps not as elegant a solution as making PHA in plants, it takes advantage of major factors contributing to an efficient process: low energy requirements and high conversion yields (almost 80 percent of each kilogram of plant sugar used ends up in the final plastic product). But despite the advantages of PLA over other plant-based plastics, its production will inevitably emit more greenhouse gases than do many of its petrochemical counterparts.”

    Excerpt from: http://www.mindfully.org/Plastic/Biodegrade/Green-PlasticsAug00.htm

    Good reading.

    There are basically three types of plastics which are claiming to be more environmentally friendly; compostable, degradable and biodegradable. PLA is compostable but only in a commercial facility, PLA doesn’t biodegrade. Degradable plastics such as oxodegradable plastics, break down (degrade) into smaller and smaller pieces until they are too small to see. Degraded polymers don’t biodegrade they just get to small to see and that isn’t good for the environment either. The third is the truly biodegradable plastic like the ENSO Bottle with EcoPure or other plastics with the EcoPure additive. Biodegradable plastic with EcoPure is plastic that has an additive which attracts microbes which consume plastic in an anaerobic or aerobic environment leaving behind biogases and humus.
    Most landfills here in the U.S. are the dry tomb type where the trash is compacted and covered limiting oxygen and moisture within the trash. There is however, microbial activity within the anaerobic conditions of a dry tomb landfill. Microbes consuming trash in a landfill produce landfill gases (LFG). Landfill gases are now being captured and used to produce clean energy. There are new landfills coming on line called bioreactor landfills. Bioreactor landfills are landfills that are designed to enhance microbial action and are designed to capture all the LFG produced. Our company supports recycling and the development of bioreactor landfills. Ultimately, most thing end up in a landfill, biodegradable plastics and bioreactor landfills will be major factor toward improving our environment.
    We know there isn’t any one perfect answer, but we are working toward a solution that will help.

    “Bottles for a Healthier Earth”

  • Zachary Shahan


    thanks for the extra info