Partner news World first: bioplastics from waste water

02/06/2022 Source: Circular Biobased Delta

A plant that makes plastics that actually degrade in nature and not just in industrial composting facilities. Dordrecht experienced the world first of this yesterday with the opening of PHA2USE at HVC, member of the Network Chemical Recycling.

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Actually, it is only a demonstration plant, which uses bacteria to make 25 kilos of bioplastic a day from waste water. It cost 4.5 million euros. In 2026, a real factory must be operating somewhere in the Netherlands that can produce 6000 tonnes of bioplastic per year using the same method. Cost: 50 million euros.

It can be located at a sewage treatment plant such as in Dordrecht, at a paper factory, a brewery, a candy factory or a chemical company. As long as we have waste water containing organic substances that the bacteria can eat,” says Leon Korving of the Wetsus knowledge centre. Those bacteria get their food from the wastewater and build up an energy store of fatty acids in their bodies. That substance is called PHA. The factory can extract it from the bacteria and convert it into natural plastic. If it later ends up in nature, the same bacteria can easily eat it and it disappears again. PHA has the same advantages as plastic, but not the disadvantages”, says Korving.

Major plastic problem

The world’s plastic problem is growing all the time. Production from oil continues to increase and this accounts for 10 to 13 percent of all CO₂ emissions in the world. The plastic pollution is even more frightening. A plastic soup floats in the oceans, fish and birds eat small pieces of plastic and people ingest an average of 5 grams of plastic per week through food and drinking water. Even in human blood, plastic has been measured. There are also alarming concentrations of plastic in the soil.

Korving represents five water boards throughout the Netherlands that have invested 2.5 million in the project. Together with HVC and technology company Paques Biomaterials, assisted by knowledge centre Stowa, TU Delft and Avans, they have developed the method in recent years. The plant in Dordrecht is the first in the world for this type of bioplastic.

So we sprinkle microplastics over our fields, as it were.

This is not biodegradable plastic that can only be degraded after six months at 65 degrees in an industrial composting plant, which other companies are doing very well. Nor is it about plastic from trees or from biomass for which food crops have to make way.

Agricultural sector

European regulations do not yet allow the Dordt bio-plastic to be used for consumer applications, so the demo plant focuses mainly on customers in the agricultural sector. The company Maan Biobased Products, for example, makes 100 million plant pots every year that are difficult to remove from the ground. With PHA, this is no longer necessary. Basilisk wants to use the plastic in its self-healing concrete. The PHA is then converted by bacteria into limestone that repairs cracks and rust in the concrete. Even more promising is its use in fertilisers. What not many people know is that some fertiliser granules have a plastic sleeve that remains in the soil after use. We are therefore scattering microplastics over our fields, as it were. This will be prohibited by the EU in 2026, by the way. We can also coat this fertiliser and then you no longer have this problem,” says director René Rozendal of Paques Biomaterials.

In the future, the parties believe that the bioplastic can also be used in shoe soles or clothing. In order to get that far, customers must be able to see what kind of bioplastic it is and what they can do with it. The construction of the demo plant was essential for this.