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Materials

49: Biotransformation for better biodegradables

Problem:

Biodegradable solutions have faltered in the past, largely due to the creation of microplastics, lack of compatibility with recycling systems, and confusion from consumers around the recycling of packaging.

Solution:

A formula that breaks down plastic items to a sludge for easier and more complete biodegradation.


Polymateria Ltd, led by Niall Dunne and currently based at Imperial College London’s I-HUB, has come up with a solution designed to trigger a chemical conversion which attacks the structure of commonly used plastics.

As developed by Graham Chapman, Christopher Wallis and Gavin Hill, Polymateria’s biotransformation technology (or additive) converts the hydrocarbon backbone of a plastic product which has escaped a recycling facility, into an oligomeric material in two ways:

  1. It breaks up / cuts the links in the polymer chain to produce smaller wax-like oligomeric and discrete chemical compounds, i.e. reduces the molecular weight.
  2. Then it chemically transforms the super-hydrophobic hydrocarbon polymer backbone into a hydrophilic bacteria and fungi material capable of interaction with the natural environment, fully biodegrade within two years, leaving behind no microplastics.

In October 2019, Polymateria announced a partnership with Clariant, one of the world’s leading specialty chemical companies.

The ambition of the partnership is to bring Biotransformation technology to market in South East Asia, the main global source of “fugitive” plastic, which is plastic that escapes into the natural environment.

In July 2020, Polymateria received £18.9 m (£15 million) in funding from impact investing platform Planet First Partners (PFP) to fund the roll-out its ‘biotransformation’ technology. Sportswear group Puma will be using Polymateria’s additive in the production of 160 million plastic bags it uses each year which will be on sale in Southeast Asia in 2021.

Tomorrow’s solution: Tidy Planet and the Rocket

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