Carbios, a French green chemistry company specializing in technologies dedicated to the recovery of plastic waste and the production of bio-polymers, recently announced that it has successfully managed to depolymerize 90 percent of polylactic acid (PLA) material — a thermoplastic aliphatic polyester derived from renewable resources, commonly used in everything from chip bags to toothpaste tubes — in only 48 hours, using its cutting-edge enzymatic process.
These exceptional results were obtained by the team from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in Toulouse, France (Toulouse White Biotechnology [TWB] and the Systems Biology and Process Engineering Laboratory [LISBP]), both of which are Carbios' partners on the Thanaplast™ project. They have prompted the company to continue successfully developing its depolymerization process of polyesters, including PLA plastic wastes.
PLA is the fastest-growing market in the plastic industry, credited with a 10-30 percent increase depending on the sources (European Bioplastics, Nova Institute, etc). With a relatively low yearly production of 200,000 tons to date, this bio-based plastic polymer also has significant growth potential — its physical and chemical properties make it the main alternative to polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the primary plastic polymer used for plastic bottles and other packaging products. Compared to PET, PLA has two significant advantages: its biocompatibility (it is a material of choice for medical transplants and implants) and its perfect fit for 3D-printing techniques.
The enzyme patented by Carbios induces the catalytic depolymerization of PLA waste at a rate that comes close to industrial performances. Such catalytic activity was tested on consumer goods made of PLA, including cups, trays, plastic films and flatware, whose semi-crystalline properties make it difficult for the enzyme to operate — the exceptional performance marks the beginning of the production scale-up of Carbios' bio-recycling process. It allows the company to contemplate a faster manufacturing process than had been initially scheduled.
The results obtained by Carbios with PLA will enable the company to expand its technology to other plastic polymers, including PET and PTT, the latter of which is the main component of carpets.
"These unprecedented results validate Carbios' strategy and the company's ambition to manufacture its patented environmentally friendly PLA depolymerization method. By breathing new life into the plastic waste industry, they confirm Carbios' position as a major player in the circular economy," concluded Jean-Claude Lumaret, CEO of Carbios.
In related news, in July Carbios announced a significant step forward in the development of its controlled biodegradation process for disposable soft plastics. With that process, Carbios said it obtained completely biodegradable plastic material in domestic conditions. The material, comprised of an oil-based polymer and an enzyme, loses 50 percent of its mass in 15 days and completely biodegrades in less than three months, making Carbios’ technology an effective potential industrial answer to legal concerns around how to better control the end of life of disposable and short-life plastics.