Institut für Systembiotechnologie

Saarbrücken biotechnologists conduct research into the production of sustainable recycled plastics

News 11/02/2022

Nearly 380 million tons of plastics are currently produced each year - with a strong upward trend and the well-known negative consequences for our planet. The EU project "REPurpose" therefore aims to explore new ways for the efficient use of resources in plastics production. The Institute for Systems Biotechnology (iSBio) headed by Prof. Christoph Wittmann of Saarland University is also involved. The aim of the Saarbrücken researchers is to use microorganisms to produce building blocks for sustainable plastics from waste.

"Within 'REPurpose', we are developing novel microbial synthesis routes into key biobased building blocks for the new plastics," explains Prof. Christoph Wittmann. His team at the Institute for Systems Biotechnology specializes in using microorganisms for technical processes. "By specifically redirecting the metabolism of the bacteria used, we develop them into customized cell factories that convert waste materials based on cardboard and paperboard into desired products," explains the biotechnologist. By later combining the biobased building blocks with enzymatically pretreated plastic waste, it is possible to break new ground in the REPurpose network - toward the most ecological rubber materials available to date: non-fossil, controlled degradable and infinitely recyclable, says Wittmann. The research work at the institute will be funded with 620,000 euros over the next four years.

The REPurpose project, which involves a total of eleven European partners, aims to find new solutions to replace classic petrochemical plastics. The focus is on the sustainable production of new types of plastics (thermoplastic polymers) that can be used for consumer goods of all kinds, such as car parts or construction materials. To this end, waste from paper, cardboard and cartonboard is to be used, as well as waste from plastics that are found in large quantities, for example in textile fibers, plastic bottles or films. The European Union is funding REPurpose through the Horizon Europe research and innovation program with around 6.1 million euros (grant no. 101057971). The total volume amounts to 6.5 million euros. The project brings together ten partners from seven European Union countries and one associated partner from the United Kingdom. The other project partners are: Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant (Belgium) as coordinator, the companies Renasci, B4Plastics (Belgium), Photon Mission (Netherlands) and Epoch BioDesign, previously Mellizyme, as associated partner (United Kingdom), the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna (Austria), Aalborg University (Denmark) and the research institutions Italbiotec (Italy), AIMPLAS and AVEP (Spain).

Background: Annual plastics production, currently just under 380 million tons, is expected to double by 2035 and even quadruple by 2050, making the search for new solutions for efficient resource use in the manufacture of plastics a task of global importance.