Currently, it costs more to produce bottles, fabrics or nonwovens from recycled PET than it does to use virgin PET, and the quality of the recycled product is often lower, according to Ambercycle Inc., a spin-out from the University of California Davis.
The company is looking to change this with its prototype new technology.
“We use synthetic biology to engineer custom-tailored organisms that can degrade plastics into its chemical components,” explains CEO Ashkay Sethi. “Our new process lowers the cost of recycling plastics and provides a sustainable and economically sensible choice for the synthesis of plastics.
“Today, plastics are produced from crude oil derivatives,” adds CFO Mattan Hamou. “This means that prices and the market for plastics depend heavily on the price of oil but also on all of the economic, environmental, and political ramifications associated with petroleum-based products. Most people assume the solution is recycling. While this is partially true, current recycling technologies actually epitomise inefficiency, utilising millions of kilojoules of energy at extremely low efficiency rates. We recycle because we are told it’s the right thing to do, but unfortunately, it doesn’t make much economic sense with current technologies.”
Ambercycle’s engineered organisms enzymatically degrade the plastic into 2 compounds – ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid (PTA). PTA presents value in its ability to be used in the production of other plastics, thus making plastic production self sustaining.
The company is one of ten which have just been selected to take part in the 2013 LAUNCH Challenge.
Founded in 2010 LAUNCH is a strategic collaboration between NASA, Nike, the US Department of State and the US Agency for International Development (USAID),
Recently named as one of the 25 most influential US governmental initiatives, LAUNCH identifies and supports visionaries whose ideas, technologies or programs have the potential to create a better world. Through a series of meetings, events and an annual forum, it has successfully introduced innovations that are solving urgent challenges facing society.