The agreement covers the field of plastic recycling by bacteria, based on research from the team of Prof. Ariel Kushmaro and Prof. Alex Sivan, both from the Laboratory of Environmental Biotechnology and Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering at BGU.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the most abundantly used polymer in the world. It is estimated about 56m tons of PET are produced yearly worldwide, mostly as single use packaging material. Therefore, intense efforts are directed towards recycling and reuse of the PET plastic materials.
Kushmaro, Sivan and their team have been studying plastic biodegradation and have discovered several bacteria species able to biodegrade polyethylene, which was previously considered non-biodegradable, mainly because of the highly stable carbon-carbon bonds of the polymer backbone.
Based on the findings, the research collaboration project will assess the biodegradation of PET by previously-identified bacteria as well as novel ones, with the aim of developing a biodegradation process of PET whose products will be used as raw materials for recycled PET in the future.
"Plastic-containing products is one of the biggest environmental challenges facing modern society, and degradation and recycling of plastic are one crucial strategy for dealing with the environmental impact of PET," Kushmaro said.
"Existing technologies, such as thermo-mechanical recycling impair the mechanical properties of the polymer and suffer from other disadvantages such as the need for organic solvents, high reaction temperatures and intensive waste sorting. Bacterial degradation of PET into recyclable materials that can be then reused to manufacture new PET products is therefore a promising strategy that can have a global environmental and economic impact."
Jorge Lemos, CEO at ECOIBÉRIA, said, "ECOIBÉRIA's mission is to guarantee the sustainability of the production and consumption models and assist in the transition from the linear economy to the circular economy, through the transformation of PET plastic waste into valuable secondary raw materials.
"We believe that BGU's innovations in the field of bacterial biodegradation of PET complements our technologies and has the potential to become an important contribution to our plastic recycling efforts."
Based in the north of Portugal, ECOIBÉRIA is dedicated to PET plastic waste recycling. It is a producer of secondary raw materials such as PET flakes and, from April 2021, PET pellets. Every year around 50,000 tons of PET plastic waste is processed by ECOIBÉRIA.
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