Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are biodegradable polyesters produced and stored by bacteria cells as energy and carbon storage material. In the last decade various organizations including CSIR-CSMCRI have been actively engaged in R&D activities on different aspects of PHA. Owing to the diversity in PHA structural properties various applications have been developed as packaging films, disposable items, biocompatible implants, bone replacements, blood vessel replacements, scaffold material in tissue, engineering of heart valve, etc.
Moreover, owing to its biodegradability and biocompatibility, PHAs have been approved by FDA for the applications listed above. Global bio-plastic demand for packaging alone has been projected to reach 884,000 tons by 2020. According to a new study by Pira International, the development of bio-sourced and biodegradable bioplastics will be a major driver as packaging market demand slowly but gradually shifts from petrochemicals polymers to bio- plastics packaging based on renewable and sustainable materials. The basic cost involved in the production of such biopolymers is the raw material being used for fermentation process. In this respect, the innovative step taken by CSIR-CSMCRI is the use of crude glycerol as raw material, which is obtained as by-product from the waste stream during biodiesel production from oil plants, namely Jatropha in India. Thanks to the innovative process, a waste which is otherwise required to be treated before disposal is converted to a highly valuable and environment friendly product- PHAs.
“We filed for the patent in 2009, after we successfully made biodegradable plastic from a residue of Jatropha called glycerol. We isolated and used microbes from soil and ocean environments to turn this glycerol into plastic, through a 96-hour-long fermentation process,” says Ghosh narrating the work conducted by the scientists at the institute located in the neighborhoods of Bhavnagar district.
The European patent comes a year after the institute received the CIPET (Central Institute of Plastics Engineering & Technology) National Award from the Indian Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers for this innovation in 2012. CSIR-CSMCRI has produced bioplastics at sample scale in its laboratories. When this plastic is put in the soil, it degrades within six-months. Now the next step is to produce this plastic on kilogram scale and make the entire process commercially viable. The CSMCRI director also said its scientists are also working on “getting the right properties of plastic like tensile strength, etc.”