Project: Microbial integration of plastics in the circular economy

Acronym MIPLACE (Reference Number: 12)
Duration 01/01/2020 - 31/12/2022
Project Topic In this proposal we will develop the technology required to use two recalcitrant plastic polymers, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyurethane (PU) as feedstock for microbial transformations required for a circular economy. In particular, we will focus on the transformation of PET and PU waste into the industrially relevant and more sustainable moieties for Bio-PU polymers. With this approach we will also enable the recycling of the Bio-PU product, completing this way a fully circular strategy for the sustainable production of an important material. The success of PET as a packaging material is only comparable to its resilience to degradation in the environment. Likewise, production rates of PU are also increasing, with the caveat that the recycling procedures for PU are virtually non-existing. PET can be degraded to constituent monomers using physicochemical processes such as pyrolysis and, more recently, by enzymatic hydrolysis. PU, on the other hand, is not so well characterised in terms of enzymatic hydrolysis, but microbial activities against the polymer have been recently described. The synthesis of the monomers required for Bio-PU has been achieved using standard carbon sources (e.g. glucose) in different organisms. In MIPLACE we will synthesise them in biotransformations using the products of hydrolysis of PET as the sole energy and carbon source. Preliminary results from members in the consortium show that this can be achieved although with low yields. Despite their limited scope, these previous observations support that PET and PU are feasible substrates for bacterial growth. In this proposal we will expand on those works and establish PET and PU as general substrates for biotechnological applications including the development of bacterial communities that can directly feed on PET and PU as the sole carbon source without the need of a prior lytic step. The main goals of this proposal are: 1) to improve the enzymatic hydrolysis of PET and PU by obtaining hydrolases producing strains with bespoke properties either from environmental screenings or lab directed evolution; 2) to engineer artificial microbial communities for the transformation of PET and PU polymers into monomers required for Bio-PU synthesis using PET as a feedstock and 3) to achieve the chemical synthesis of Bio-PU using the monomers of biological origin produced in the previous step. To achieve these goals we build on the main expertise of each of the partners involved, each of which applies to a part of the value chain covering the whole of the the proposed strategy. The activities in MIPLACE will result in the development of new paths for polymer production and upcycling with a positive impact in the circular (bio)economy of the EU. For this reason, we will take advantage of the expertise of our industrial partner SOPREMA to lead an ambitious exploitation strategy, aimed at generating an increase of at least 2 TRLs in the core activities of the project and concluding with the validation in an industrial setting of some of the tasks. We envisage this pipeline as an enabling technology paving the way to other related applications. Anticipating the impact of the project, we have also devised strategies of communication and engagement with the general public. Given the current societal awareness of the detrimental effects of the accumulation of plastic waste, it is of particular interest to this consortium to obtain an understanding of the public perception towards innovative approaches to plastic waste management. To this end, in MIPLACE we will also conduct pilot studies in collaboration with social scientists aimed at evaluating the evolution of public perception and consumer behaviour in response to the progress resulting from the scientific activities developed in the project.
Website visit project website
Network ERA CoBioTech
Call 2nd Joint Call on Biotechnologies

Project partner

Number Name Role Country
1 University of Surrey Coordinator United Kingdom
2 RWTH Aachen University Partner Germany
3 Universität Leipzig Partner Germany
4 SOPREMA Partner France
5 University of Valencia Partner Spain