“Bio-based, renewable, sustainable materials are the future of the plastics industry.”
The US’ Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded a team of University of California (UC) San Diego scientists $2 million to develop new methods to produce algae-based renewable polymers. The grant is part of a new initiative by the DOE and other agencies to support the bio-economy.
Project principal investigator Stephen Mayfield of UC San Diego’s division of Biological Sciences will lead efforts to develop novel platforms to produce biologically-based monomers that will be used to manufacture renewable and biodegradable versions of plastic polymers called polyurethanes.
“We propose to develop novel algae platforms for the production of one of the key monomers used to make polyurethane polymers, while simultaneously developing basic tools to enable improved algal production systems that will accelerate the process from initial concept to market supply,” said Mayfield, who directs the California Center for Algae Biotechnology and the Food & Fuel for the 21st Century program (@FoodFuel21).
The grant is part of a recently announced $80m DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office (@BioenergyKDF) initiative supporting 36 projects in bio-energy research and development. In addition to bio-based products, projects include renewable hydrogen fuels and power from non-food biomass and waste feedstocks.
Mayfield said the DOE and others are investing in novel manufacturing methods for bio-based products and markets, including algae-based polymers that will be used for a variety of plastics found in everyday items.
Algae bio-based production strives to be cost-competitive with plastic products manufactured with fossil sources, according to DOE.
“This grant is part of a significant new initiative by the Department of Energy and other agencies to support the bio-economy, which is using living organisms to manufacture products,” said Mayfield. “This is one of the fastest growing sectors for creating new jobs, as well as for developing new advanced materials and products.”
Mayfield’s laboratory is developing algae for the production of human and animal foods and feeds, and as a platform for the production of recombinant proteins useful as therapeutics or industrial enzymes.
He also works with UC San Diego Chemistry and Biochemistry Department Professors Michael Burkart and Skip Pomeroy in developing sustainably-based products such as revolutionary algae-based surfboards and renewable flip-flops, part of an effort to replace the three billion petroleum-based shoes manufactured worldwide with sustainable and biodegradable shoes made from algae.
“Our strategy is to go from renewable algae feedstocks all the way to products that people actually want to buy,” said Burkart.
He added that the surfboards were a “big success, and we are excited to see how people like the flip-flops”.
He said that the aim was for UC San Diego to get to 100% renewability and biodegradability and he believed that the university could “make an impact”.
“Bio-based, renewable, sustainable materials are the future of the plastics industry,” Burkart concluded.