Scientists find enzyme that breaks down pet plastic in hours

Scientists working for Carbios have discovered an enzyme which can reportedly break down PET plastics for recycling into food-grade material in hours, rather than weeks.

PET Recycling

Billions of tons of plastic waste have polluted the planet and pose a particular danger to the environment. Campaigners say reducing the use of plastics is important, but the companies say that strong, lightweight materials are very useful and that true recycling was part of the solution.

The discovery of the new PET hydrolase enzyme was reported in the scientific journal Nature, which claims that the enzyme can break down PET plastics into their individual chemical components in as little as ten hours, allowing the creation of new high-quality, food-grade PET packaging.
PET is very difficult to break down, and many thermomechanical recycling processes produce lower-quality plastic which is then used in non-food related products.

According to the journal, the PET hydrolase enzyme can biologically depolymerise 90% of PET polymers in ten hours, a significant upswing from the initial degradation yield of 1% after several weeks when using other enzymes.

The journal stated: “This highly efficient, optimised enzyme outperforms all PET hydrolases reported so far”, including an enzyme from the bacterium Ideonella sakaiensis strain 201-F6, which had generated interest.

The company behind the breakthrough, Carbios, said it has been targeting industrial-level recycling for five years. Carbios has now formed a strategic partnership with major food and beverage companies, including PepsiCo, Nestle and Suntory, to scale and develop the technology. Corbios said in a statement that it would conduct a test in 2021 to test the "industrial and commercial potential" of the process.

Independent experts called the new enzyme a major berakthrough. If successful, Corbios said the proprietary process would represent a "paradigm shift" in the PET recycling process, and pave the way for a circular economy for plastics.

Saleh Jabarin, professor at The University of Toledo, Ohio and a member of Carbios’ Scientific Committee, said: “It’s a real breakthrough in the recycling and manufacturing of PET.

“Thanks to the innovative technology developed by Carbios, the PET industry will become truly circular, which is the goal for all players in this industry, especially brand-owners, PET producers and our civilization as a whole.”

This development follows on from a similar discovery made in 2018 by scientists from the University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

These scientists accidentally engineered an enzyme which could digest plastics including PET. Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth and Dr Gregg Beckham at NREL solved the crystal structure of PETase – a recently discovered enzyme that digests PET – and used this 3D information to understand how it works. During this study, they inadvertently engineered an enzyme that is even better at degrading the plastic than the one that evolved in nature.

The scientists analysed the enzyme and introduced mutations to improve its ability to break down the PET plastic from which drinks bottles are made. They also made it stable at 72C, close to the perfect temperature for fast degradation.

The team used the optimised enzyme to break down a tonne of waste plastic bottles, which were 90% degraded within 10 hours. The scientists then used the material to create new food-grade plastic bottles.

Carbios has a deal with the biotechnology company Novozymes to produce the new enzyme at scale using fungi. It said the cost of the enzyme was just 4% of the cost of virgin plastic made from oil.

Waste bottles also have to be ground up and heated before the enzyme is added, so the recycled PET will be more expensive than virgin plastic. But Martin Stephan, the deputy chief executive at Carbios, said existing lower-quality recycled plastic sells at a premium due to a shortage of supply.


Managing IPR

Managing Intellectual Property

Managing Intellectual Property

“Managing Intellectual Property” is a series of articles on intellectual property rights in the trade related matters. The series covers various dimensions of IPR, pertainign to the food processing industry, in the form of simplified legal text with suitable cases studies. We hope the series will benefit the food processors, policy makers, executives, managers, researchers, traders and other stakeholders in the processed food industry.Read More

Current Topics

Current Topics

‘Current topics’ provides the rapid advances in the food processing sector that have taken place in the recent past. The series is being contributed by Dr. V.H Potty – our editorial consultant and Deputy Director (Rtd), CFTRI. He is the doyen of food processing industry in India. We feel that an intensive review of the major issues concerning food processing industry would be of great value to our readers.

Read More

Recent Development

Recent Development

New developments in the sphere of processed food industry take place every now and then, which results in the overall development of the entire food sector. Dr. Rajat K. Baisya — our editorial consultant, and professor of marketing and strategic management at department of management studies, IIT Delhi — keeps a keen eye on these developments in food processing sector as and when they happen. The series has recently passed its 200 mark in its print version.
Read More

Cold Chain

Cold Chain Management

Keeping in view the importance of freezing and cold chain in food business 'Processed Food Industry' has decided to introduce a new series of article ‘A to Z of Frozen Food Operation’. The series is contributed by O S Gautam — a known food consultant and Director, Delicacy International — is being presented here. We hope our readers will be benefited by his experience and give us their feedback.
Read More

Supply Chain

Supply Chain

“Managing Supply Chain & Marketing of Food Products” The purpose of initiating this series of articles is to discus some important dimensions of food processing industry, which can be of some help for decision makers at various levels in food business. This series looks into macro-economic policy parameters, which affect food consumption and retailing patterns and consumer behaviours. We will also evaluate various micro-level developments in processed-food-industry world and their impact on food business, food retailing and consumer behaviour.
Read More


Copyright © 2019 All Rights Reserved | Designed & Developed by Netnovaz Web Solutions