Tech

The French company uses enzymes to process one of the most common single-use plastics.

Since disposable plastics are mostly derived from petroleum, by 2050 plastics can account for 20% of the world’s annual oil consumption. Reducing our dependence on plastic and finding ways to recycle plastics that already exist in the world can significantly reduce our emissions.

Right now just about 15% of all plastics all over the world are annually collected for processing. Since the 1990s, researchers have been trying to find new ways to break down plastic in the hope of recycling more plastic. Companies and researchers have worked to develop enzymatic processes, such as the one used in Carbios, as well as chemical processes, such as the method used Loop Industries… But it is only recently that enzymatic and chemical processes have begun to be marketed.

The new Carbios reactor measures 20 cubic meters – roughly the size of a cargo van. It can simultaneously hold two metric tons of plastic, or the equivalent of roughly 100,000 shredded bottles, and decompose it into PET building blocks – ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid – in 10-16 hours.

The company plans to use what it has learned at the demonstration site to build its first industrial facility that will house a reactor that is about 20 times larger than the demonstration reactor. This full-scale plant will be built next to a plastics manufacturer somewhere in Europe or the US and should be operational by 2025, the report said. Alain Marty, Chief Scientist at Carbios.

Carbios has been developing enzymatic processing since the company was founded in 2011. This process uses enzymes that break down the long chains of polymers that make up plastic. The resulting monomers can then be refined and bonded together to form new plastics. Researchers at Carbios started with a naturally occurring enzyme used by bacteria to break down leaves and then modified it to make it more effective at breaking down PET.

Demonstration Center Carbios in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Image courtesy of SkotchProd.

Carbios estimates that its enzymatic recycling process reduces greenhouse gas emissions by about 30% compared to pure (newly developed, non-recyclable) PET. Marty says he expects that number to increase as they solve the problems.

In the recent reportthe researchers estimate that the production of PET from enzymatic processing can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17–43% compared to the production of virgin PET. The report did not specifically address Carbios, but it is probably a good assessment of his process, according to Gregg Beckham, a researcher at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory and co-author of the report.

“While the development of new enzymes has been a major focus of new research and commercial efforts, other parts of the process will determine how efficient and cost-effective the technology is,” says Beckham, a lead scientist. consortium about new methods of processing and production of plastic.

“These are all less glamorous things,” Beckham says, such as converting plastic into a form that enzymes can efficiently break down, or separating what enzymes secrete, which can take a lot of energy and time, and increase emissions and costs. …


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