Tech Briefs Magazine - July 2021 - 10

5
What
Most biodegradable plastics
today are made of polylactic
acid (PLA), a vegetable-based
plastic material
blended with cornstarch,
or polycaprolactone (PCL),
a biodegradable polyester.
The new enzyme-activated
compostable plastic could
diminish microplastics pollution
and holds great prom -
ise for plastics upcycling.
The material can be broken
down to its building
blocks - small individual
molecules called mono -
Compostable Plastic
Ws of
Who
Less than 9% of plastic gets recycled in the U.S. - most ends up in landfill or the environment. Truly compostable
plastic would eliminate the microplastics that end up in the bodies of animals - and humans.
(Left): A film of PLA (polylactic acid) plastic immediately after being placed in compost and (right)
after one week in the compost. (UC Berkeley photo by Adam Lau/Berkeley Engineering)
mers - and then reformed into a new compostable plastic product. The new approach involves " nanoconfining "
enzymes into plastics. Because enzymes are part of living systems, a safe place had to be carved into the plastic for
enzymes to lie dormant until they're called to action. The researchers embedded trace amounts of the commercial
enzymes Burkholderia cepacian lipase (BC-lipase) and proteinase K within PLA and PCL plastic materials. They also
added an enzyme protectant called four-monomer random heteropolymer (RHP) to help disperse the enzymes a few
nanometers apart. Ordinary household tap water or standard soil composts converted the enzyme-embedded plastic
material into its monomers and eliminated microplastics in just a few days or weeks.
Where
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California, Berkeley
Why
If not sorted properly, biodegradable plastic bags and containers can contaminate otherwise recyclable #1 and #2
plastics. Also, most biodegradable plastics take months to break down and they aren't as strong as regular plastic.
When
The truly compostable plastic could be on the shelves soon. The researchers filed a patent application and a UC
Berkeley startup - Intropic Materials - will further develop the new technology. The technology is available for
licensing and collaboration.
10
Contact: Berkeley Lab Intellectual Property Office at ipo@lbl.gov; 510-486-4306.
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Tech Briefs, July 2021
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Tech Briefs Magazine - July 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Tech Briefs Magazine - July 2021

Tech Briefs Magazine - July 2021 - Intro
Tech Briefs Magazine - July 2021 - Sponsor
Tech Briefs Magazine - July 2021 - Cov1
Tech Briefs Magazine - July 2021 - Cov2
Tech Briefs Magazine - July 2021 - 1
Tech Briefs Magazine - July 2021 - 2
Tech Briefs Magazine - July 2021 - 3
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Tech Briefs Magazine - July 2021 - Cov3
Tech Briefs Magazine - July 2021 - Cov4
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