UH licenses bioplastic technology

Someday soon your leftover lunch may be transformed into useful plastics such as trash bags, diapers, or even a lunch box, thanks to research at the University of Hawaii. A scientist at the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology has developed a new, environmentally friendly way to transform table scraps into biodegradable plastics using bacteria.

Dr. Jian Yu, with the school’s Department of Ocean Resources and Engineering, has signed a license agreement with I-PHA BioPolymers Ltd. [PDF] of Hong Kong to use the technology he developed to produce bioplastics and organic fertilizers in Hong Kong, Macau and China, according to UH officials.

“It’s a simple, economical, energy-saving way to convert food wastes into bioplastics,” Yu said recently in an interview with Honolulu Magazine.

Bioplastics are made by microbial organisms from natural renewable resources, are completely biodegradable in the environment, and are non-toxic to the ecosystem. The new technology may have a unique market niche with their environmentally friendly properties and cost advantage.

In Honolulu Magazine, Dr. Yu explained how his technique significantly reduces the cost of producing bioplastics from about $4.50 per pound for older techniques to about $1-$2 per pound for his new method. Two species of natural bacteria are responsible for converting organic material into bioplastics, and the process takes about a week.

“My research began in 1995, while I was at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology,” Yu told the magazine. “Hong Kong faces a similar problem to Honolulu’s, with a growing population, growing amounts of waste and limited space.”

Biodegradable plastic and elastic polymers have a wide variety of uses, including disposable products such as food packaging, foam peanuts, and laminated paper; consumer goods such as plates, cutlery and toys; medical products such as syringes and sutures; and agricultural applications including planters and mulch film.

“People discard organic waste materials during food production and consumption. We collect and turn organic waste into slurry, and use natural microbes to break it into simple fermentative compounds such as acetic, propionic and butric acids,” Dr. Yu explained in a press release. “From these fermentative acids, some special microbial strains, isolated from soil, produce bioplastics under a controlled environment. The waste residuals that cannot be decomposed by the natural microbes are further stabilized as excellent soil conditioner and organic fertilizers.”

Incorporated in 2002, I-PHA BioPolymers Ltd. is engaged in environmental biotechnology development. The company’s business scope focuses on organic waste management and the production of bioplastics and organic fertilisers.

“I am grateful for I-PHA BioPolymer’s willingness to make an investment in a technology that can truly make a difference in our lives,” said Richard Cox, Director of UH’s Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development. “By helping commercialize this technology, I-PHA BioPolymers will be helping to tackle one of those thorny problems that confront virtually every country on earth — solid waste management and overflowing landfills — and that will be a benefit to us all, truly a benefit to society.”

In Yuen Long, Hong Kong, I-PHA BioPolymers will commission a research center to develop and build a pilot plant to produce bioplastics and organic fertilizers using the new technology. Dr. Yu will be chief scientist for the pilot plant design and construction.

“We are honored to have Dr. Yu as our technical consultant, whom we believe will ensure a smooth transfer of technical know-how and enhance our technology,” said I-PHA BioPolymers Managing Director Andy Lo. “With the I-PHA technology, we have come up with a cost-effective approach to handle biodegradable organic waste materials by converting it into bioplastics and organic fertilizers without secondary pollution.”

More information can be obtained at the UH Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development website or at the UH Hawaii Natural Energy Institute website.

10 thoughts on “UH licenses bioplastic technology

  1. Hi,
    This is lakshmi kannan doing final year M.Sc Biotechnology.viewed through your article on Honlulu Magazine which finds very servicing.I have just started a project work on bioplastics as i am very much interested on it.
    To start with , iwould like to isolate organisms from various sources of occurence,say water, soil…..but the problem is i have trying to find out the exact conditions of its occurence in soils, etc.
    i request you to help me out with scratch of ideas of places , methods of isolation & identification.If you could do that i would be indeed to work on it with real pleasure.

  2. hello
    I am hadia, I found your article on net and I have the same problem like Lakshmi that what could be the exact conditions of its occurence in soils, water etc. and what could be the stress for its isolation, if you could help me out in this I would really be thankful to you for that.

  3. can i make such plastic at home?

    and can we make PLA or PHB at school or home?
    how do we find & use “ralstonia eutropha” and make the bioplastic?

  4. Hi! I aileen and I am on my final year in BS Chemistry in the Philippines. I have just started my thesis on bioplastics.

    I just don’t know if the bacteria that helps in the fermentation process is available here in our country.

    Second, where can i buy that silicone rubber sheat?

    Thank you for your help!

  5. hi
    iam in faculty of science making my master on on the production of phb i love this material
    becase i love the things which make the enviroment clean i always dream with bioplastic world
    i already isolated more than one type of phb bacteria from soil
    so i need some information about the using of waste as a carbon source
    thank you for your help


  7. I need a sample of the micro-orginism responsible for for the production of bioplastic. If you have a method of isolating it that you would be willing to share please do so. Or, if you know where I can purchase a live culture I would be very greatful if you could provide a web adress or phone number.

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