Producing bioplastics from waste food products seems to be the newest rage. It’s not clear if it’s mostly a PR bonanza for university researchers, or a technology with a real future.
A chemistry lab in Hong Kong is focusing on how to produce succinic acid from waste food.
The Web site for Carol Lin, visiting assistant professor in the School of Energy and Environment at the City University of Hong Kong, states: “The food co-product from households, restaurants and the food industry accounts for 25% of municipal solid wastes in Hong Kong (Advisory Council of the Environment). The social, economic and environmental impact of food co-product disposal is enormous. Therefore, there is an imminent need to reduce the quantity of food co-product disposal to landfills. At the same time, the development of effective food waste conversion process/technology aiming at waste processing at the source is desired.”
In a press conference at the recent annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia, Lin said: “We are developing a new kind of biorefinery, a food biorefinery, and this concept could become very important in the future, as the world strives for greater sustainability. Using corn and other food crops for bio-based fuels and other products may not be sustainable in the long-run. Concerns exist that this approach may increase food prices and contribute to food shortages in some areas of the world. Using waste food as the raw material in a biorefinery certainly would be an attractive alternative.”
In a project conducted with Starbucks, the food biorefinery process involves blending baked goods with a mixture of fungi that excrete enzymes to break down carbohydrates into simple sugars. The sauce then goes into a fermenter where bacteria convert the sugars into succinic acid.
Lin said that the process could become commercially viable with funding from investors. “In the meantime, our next step is to use funding we have from the Innovation and Technology Commission from the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to scale up the process,” she said. “Also, other funding has been applied to test this idea in a pilot-scale plant in Germany.”
In England, university researchers said they converted waste cooking oil to bioplastics that are less expensive than plastics made from corn or beet sugar. Plus, they are higher quality.
Are investors interested in supporting these types of projects?
Seems doubtful. Sounds more like possible projects for municipal public works departments.