CSU Chemists Derive Biorenewable Plastic Alternative

A team of Colorado State University (CSU) polymer chemists led by professor Eugene Chen report they have synthesized a polymer named bacterial poly(3-hydroxybutyrate) (P3HB) that shows early promise as a substitute for petroleum-based plastics. The team’s results recently were published in Nature Communications.

The P3HB biomaterial is typically produced using bacteria, algae and other microorganisms, but its high production costs and limited volumes make more widespread use impractical, according to the CSU researchers.

The method derived at CSU produces P3HB similar in performance to bacterial P3HB, but at a faster rate, which offers the potential for more cost-effective, higher-volume production.

For their research, the CSU team — including research scientist Xiaoyan Tang, the paper’s first author — used succinate as a starting material. Succinate is an ester form of succinic acid and is produced via the fermentation of glucose. The acid appears first on the U.S. Department of Energy’s list of top 12 biomass-derived compounds best positioned to replace petroleum-based chemicals. The researchers also implemented a class of powerful new catalysts they designed, which allowed them to synthesize the P3HB using succinate. A provisional patent has been filed through CSU Ventures for the new technology.

July/August 2018