Newswise — The University of Portsmouth is now a key member of a collaborative effort funded by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) and industry to tackle the growing global crisis of plastic waste.

The Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment (BOTTLE™) Consortium focuses on addressing two critical problems: namely how to effectively recycle and upcycle today’s plastics and how to redesign tomorrow’s plastics.

The first mission element of BOTTLE focuses on the development of new processes and technologies to break down our current plastics into their chemical building blocks for reuse (recycling) and to manufacture new products from these waste streams (upcycling). For example, this would allow single-use polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles to be broken down and turned back into PET bottles infinitely without a reduction in clarity or performance, while upcycling could produce high-performance composite materials for applications such as wind turbine blades or automotive and aerospace components.

The second mission element of BOTTLE is to redesign tomorrow’s plastics to be recyclable-by-design. This involves innovative chemistry where materials retain the same properties and function while also being compatible with recycling processes that allow efficient recovery and reuse at their end of life.

Portsmouth researchers at the University’s Centre for Enzyme Innovation, led by Professor John McGeehan, have already worked extensively with the BOTTLE team led by Dr Gregg Beckham at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado to realise the first steps. They have engineered enzymes that can speed up the breakdown of PET and are working on new versions of these enzymes that can operate under industrial conditions and be produced cheaply at large scale.

Professor McGeehan said: “Plastic pollution is a global problem that requires a global solution. Our research has massively accelerated over the past few years due to bringing together experts across wide disciplines, and I believe that working collaboratively, rather than competitively, provides us with the best possible chance to tackle this problem with the urgency required. Our involvement in BOTTLE is an important aspect of our Revolution Plastics initiative, which is working across our faculties and collaborating with researchers, policy makers and communities around the world to address the plastics crisis.”

Supported by the Bioenergy Technologies Office and the Advanced Manufacturing Office, both within DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), BOTTLE seeks to work with companies and other research organisations to combine talents and capabilities from the public and private sectors.

Rory Miles, Innovation Fellow at the Centre for Enzyme Innovation, said: “We are excited about this collaborative opportunity to work with global businesses, bringing a valuable UK and European perspective to the consortium. With a new £1m Industrial Engagement Hub, funded by Solent-LEP and the UK government launching in early 2022, we will enable and accelerate industrial engagement across the sector. I look forward to engaging with businesses who are interested in commissioning R&D projects in this space to support their ambitions towards circular-recycling and sustainability.”

BOTTLE brings together a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary team of experts with experience in process development and integration, chemical catalysis, biocatalysis, material science, separations, modeling, economic analysis, and sustainability assessment. The team includes members from five US DOE National Laboratories and universities including MIT, Colorado State University, Montana State University and Northwestern University.

Gregg Beckham, CEO of the BOTTLE Consortium said: “Plastic pollution is being found everywhere researchers are looking for it. Besides accumulating in landfills and creating garbage patches in our oceans, recent work shows that microplastic particles are accumulating in our wilderness areas at an alarming rate. The consortium’s biggest advantage is the passion each partner has in working together for the common goal of solving one of the world’s biggest environmental problems.”

If you are a business or organisation interested in collaborating with CEI or BOTTLE, please contact [email protected]

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