Sewage contains all kinds of valuable matter, such as PHA or bioplastic. This is produced by the same bacteria that can degrade it. This makes PHA very suitable to replace the plastic used to package food like salads or smoothies, the kind that currently ends up as residual waste. At the Centre of Expertise Biobased Economy, a team of Brazilian students is doing research into PHA in sewage as part of the WOW! project.
Tielly Lubiana de Menezes and Thalles Mercês Carreiro from the Universidade Federal de Viçosa are looking into ways to extract PHA from sewage from locations such as industrial sites and farms is particularly rich in raw materials.
Bacteria transform so-called ‘volatile fatty acids’ found in waste water into PHA. Inside a biorector the students create the ideal circumstances for these bacteria to ‘fatten up’. As a result, these bacteria start producing more PHA. “You can compare it to the human body”, Thalles says. “The more food you eat, the more fat your body gains.”
If the bacteria in the bioreactor are frozen and a ‘green’ solvent is added, nothing remains but the PHA. “After removing the solvent, only the bioplastic remains”, Tielly adds. “It’s a kind of ‘film’.” In the future bioplastic is set to replace the regular plastic used for disposable packaging of food including snacks.
Back home, Tielly and Thalles have been made aware of the urgency of the problem. “There is a lot of pollution in Brazil”, Tielly says. “On the beaches, there’s plastic everywhere. Although we’ll return to Brazil with the insights we’ve gained, we don’t have the resources to continue this study. We’re still behind in this area in Brazil.”
Living Lab Biobased Brazil gives Brazilian students the opportunity to do a placement at Avans while Dutch students visit universities in Brazil for a placement. They participate in projects in the field of sustainability and the bio-based economy.