Garbage Gas: Bioplastic as a Disposable Source of Biodiesel

Researchers at Polytechnic University have bioengineered a fuel-latent plastic that can be converted into biodiesel. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded the researchers $2.34 million to advance this innovative technology and transfer it to industry.

The new bioplastic using vegetable oils was developed by Professor Richard Gross, director of Polytechnic University’s National Science Foundation (NSF) Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing of Macromolecules (CBBM). He partnered with DNA 2.0, a biotechnology company specializing in gene synthesis, to develop enzymes that can synthesize and break the fuel-latent plastic down into biodiesel after its use. “We showed DARPA that we could make a new plastic from plant oils that has remarkable properties, which includes being tougher and more durable than typical polyethylenes. Additionally, the bioplastic can be placed in a simple container where it is safely broken down to liquid fuel,” said Dr. Gross. The process of converting bioengineered fuel-latent plastics into biodiesel is of interest to DARPA since the U.S. military can use this technology on the frontline. The next phase of the research will entail developing a more efficient low-cost process for both manufacturing the bioplastic and converting it into biodiesel.

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