Project Title: Developing Next Generation Algal Bioplastic Technology
Supervisors: Professor Peter Ralph and Dr Mathieu Pernice
Plastic materials have revolutionised the human race and their applications permeate almost every part of our society today. Whether it is the plastic packaging that ensures consumer safety and product quality, the plastic components of the electronic devices we use everyday, the plastic in our roofs and walls of our buildings and homes that we live in or the many other uses in the automotive, agricultural, biomedical, textile and many other industries – it is undeniable that plastics are a fundamental key to making modern life possible.
Unfortunately, the economic and social value that plastics provides to humanity comes at the cost of our environment. The world produces over 300 million tons of plastic from fossil fuels every year, of which the majority ends up in landfill or in our rivers, lakes and oceans resulting causing major environmental damage. Over 70% of all plastic is not recycled and much less than 1% of it is biodegredable.
Bioplastics offer many benefits over petrochemical plastics. Firstly, they reduce our dependance on finite fossil fuels as they are produced from renewable biomass sources. Secondly, micro organisms found in the environment can break down and assimilate biodegredable compounds due to their molecular structure. Lastly, bioplastics provide a CO2 sink and sequester carbon from the atmosphere during their lifetime, alleviating global warming.
With global freshwater resources growing scarcer and finite fertiliser reserves dwindling, shifting global plastic demand to bioplastics made from terrestrial crops is not the solution. Algae however, can be grown from nutrients in wastewater with minimal freshwater usage and even grown in marine water. Many different types of bioplastics can be produced from algae – from starch / cellulose bioplastics, algal protein bioplastics, polyhydroxyalkonates and polylactic acid bioplastics.
The goal of this PhD project is to Develop Next Generation Algal Bioplastic Technology that allow the production of economically, socially and environmentally sustainable bioplastics.
- Genetically modifying algae strains for sustainably sourced biodegradable plastic compounds
- Designing end to end engineering process and equipment for manufacturing algal bioplastic products
- Techno-ecnomic analysis and modelling of entire process to achieve financial viability
This project is funded by the Australian Government’s Research Training Program Scholarship.