Water Infrastructure Ressources (Institute)

Biopolymer production from industrial wastewater streams part II

Project duration: 04/2022 - 03/2024

Persons in charge: Thomas Uhrig M.Sc., Prof. Dr.-Ing. Heidrun Steinmetz, Julia Zimmer

Funding: Willy-Hager Foundation, Stuttgart

Today, conventional plastics are mainly produced from crude oils whose availability is limited and whose extraction is not sustainable. In Europe and Germany, the lack of significant own resources also leads to considerable political dependencies. In addition to the finite nature, the harmfulness to the climate and the polluting extraction of crude oil as a raw material, the high resistance of plastics to natural decomposition processes (chemical/physical or biological degradation) poses a considerable environmental problem and ensures an increasing accumulation of discarded plastic materials in the environment. To mitigate these problems, the development of new, environmentally, and resource-friendly manufacturing processes that substitute petroleum with sustainably sourced raw materials is required. The production of a biodegradable polymer (PHA) using mixed bacterial cultures and wastewater streams as a sustainable and cheap source of raw materials could solve this problem and contribute to the production of a higher proportion of environmentally friendly plastic. Despite successful research by various research groups aimed at enabling the large-scale implementation of this process, there are still some obstacles that need to be overcome before industrial production can take place. Currently, the biggest problem with biopolymer production using mixed bacterial cultures is the fluctuating properties of the biopolymers obtained. To meet market requirements, constant, influenceable product properties and a high quality of the biopolymer are needed. Since research to date has mainly focused on maximizing the yield in this process, there is still a need for research into influencing the process to obtain a polymer with constant quality and composition.

This project is intended as a link to the previous project "Biopolymer production from industrial wastewater streams - influencing factors on sub-processes and development of measurement-control strategies to close the process chain" (duration until 03/2022). This should contribute to a deeper understanding and further development of the process chain for biopolymer production from industrial wastewater streams in order to enable an alternative to the production of plastics from petroleum. The overarching goal is to coordinate the process conditions of the individual process steps and the biocoenosis involved as well as possible in order to achieve the desired product properties with the highest and most consistent yield possible.

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