A French company uses enzymes to recycle one of the most commonly used plastics

Because most used plastics come from petroleum, by 2050 Plastics account for 20% of annual oil consumption worldwide. Reducing our reliance on plastics, and finding ways to reuse the plastics that already exist in the world, can reduce emissions.

Right now, almost 15% of all plastics worldwide collected for recycling each year. Researchers have been trying since the 1990s to find new ways to break down plastics in hopes of recycling most of them. Companies and researchers are working to improve enzymatic processes, such as those used by Carbios, as well. chemical process, as in the method used in Interior Industries. But only now has the commercial enzymatic and chemical process begun.

Carbios ’new reactor measures 20 cubic meters-about the size of a cargo van. It can hold two metric tons of plastic, or the equivalent of nearly 100,000 ground-up bottles at a time, and divide it into PET field blocks-ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid-by 10 to 16. in time.

The company plans to use what it learns from the demonstration facility to build the first industrial plant, which will house a reactor about 20 times larger than the demonstration reactor. The full-scale plant is being built close to a plastics manufacturer anywhere in Europe or the U.S., and should be operational by 2025, according to Alain Marty, Carbios ’chief science officer.

Carbios has been promoting enzymatic remodeling since the company was founded in 2011. Its process relies on enzymes to break the long chain of polymers that make up plastic. The resulting monomer can then be cleaned and bonded to make new plastics. The Carbios researchers started a natural enzyme that the bacteria used to break down the leaves, then tweaked it to make it more efficient at breaking down PET.

Carbios ’demonstration facility in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Photo courtesy of SkotchProd.

Carbios estimates that the enzymatic recycling process also reduces greenhouse gas emissions by almost 30% compared to virgin PET. Marty said he expects the number to increase as they work on the kinks.

Just now report, the researchers estimated that making PET from enzymatic recycling could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 17% and 43% compared to making virgin PET. The report isn’t specific about Carbios, but it’s probably a good estimate for its process, according to Gregg Beckham, a researcher at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co -author of the report.

While the development of new enzymes has become a major focus of new research and commercial efforts, other parts of the process will determine how efficient and cost-effective the technology is, according to Beckham. , who presided a consortium of new methods of recycling and making plastic.

“It’s all less fancy,” Beckham says, like getting plastic in a form that enzymes can break down or separate spit out by enzymes, which can take a lot of energy and time, and speed up the discharge and cost. .

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