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Earth-Friendly Innovation: Lawrence Berkeley Lab Engineers Microbes for Infinitely Recyclable PDK Plastics

Correspondent Correspondent
Sunday, December 24, 2023
Earth-Friendly Innovation: Lawrence Berkeley Lab Engineers Microbes for Infinitely Recyclable PDK Plastics
Revolutionizing Plastic: Scientists Engineer Microbes for Infinitely Recyclable PDK.
24 December 2023: Plastic pollution poses a global threat, but a breakthrough by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory could redefine the future of plastic. In a groundbreaking study published in Nature Sustainability, researchers bioengineered microbes to create poly (diketoenamine), or PDK, a plastic that can be infinitely recycled.

Lead scientist Brett Helms highlights the game-changing aspect of producing predominantly bio-based PDK, offering cost-efficiency and superior material properties compared to traditional plastics. PDK's unique quality lies in its ability to be deconstructed back into its original components without compromising quality, ready for reuse.

The innovation involved manipulating E. coli over four years to convert plant sugars into key materials, achieving an impressive 80% bio-content in PDK. This bioengineering leap opens doors to a myriad of applications, ranging from adhesives and building materials to flexible products like computer cables and watch bands.

What makes PDK even more promising is its expanded working temperature range, up to 60 degrees Celsius, when incorporating bioTAL. This advancement widens its applications to items requiring specific working temperatures, such as sports gear and automotive parts.

Considering the urgency of the plastic waste problem, with estimates reaching 400 million tons per year and a projected increase to over 1 billion tons by 2050, PDK emerges as a sustainable solution. Jay Keasling, a UC Berkeley professor, emphasizes the need to move away from fossil fuels and towards biorenewable and circular materials. The goal is to create products that fulfill their purpose before being transformed into something new.

An environmental and technological analysis from 2021 showcased PDK's commercial competitiveness with conventional plastics if produced on a large scale. The team's focus now shifts to refining the production process, aiming for cheaper bio-based PDK plastics with reduced CO2 emissions compared to their fossil fuel counterparts. Plans include accelerating sugar conversion to bioTAL and exploring bacteria capable of transforming a wider variety of plant-derived sugars and compounds. Additionally, the team is exploring the use of renewable energy to power their facilities, ensuring a more sustainable process from start to finish.