Canada R&D and Innovations

Canadian Student Transforms Food Waste into Bioplastics

University of Toronto Student Luna Yu converts food waste into PHA.

Luna Yu teamed up with a talented group of scientists and engineers to form Genecis. The company uses biotechnology, microbial engineering and machine learning to transform food waste into PHA. PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates) are polymers produced by bacteria.

“Converting food waste into biogas is time-consuming process and the end product is fairly low value. We looked at different types of bio-rubbers and bio-chemicals before landing on PHAs. We felt it had the biggest market potential. Many people throw bio-plastics into the recycling bin rather than the compost, but if it’s not a thermoplastic it can’t be remoulded and this disrupts the physical properties of new recycled products. They will end up falling apart”

Benefits of PHA

  • PHA is a  thermoplastic that can be easily moulded and remoulded.
  • PHA does not ruin the recycling process if it accidentally ends up in recycling bins.
  • PHA are fully biodegradable. PHAs degrade within one year in the environment, and fewer than 10 years in water.

Applications

Genecis’ PHA are to make toys, flexible packaging, 3D-printing filament and medical applications including surgical staples, sutures and stents.

Luna Yu said:

“Soon we will be able to synthesize speciality chemicals and other materials from organic waste, all at a lower cost than traditional production methods using synthetic biology. Those specialty chemicals could be used in cosmetics and the health and wellness industry.”

Production Process

Genecis uses a three-step process to create their PHAs. The bioplastic process takes seven days and the biogas process takes of 21 days.

  1. a bacteria culture breaks the food waste down into volatile fatty acids;
  2. the fatty acids are added to another bacteria culture specially selected to produce PHAs in their cells; and
  3. an extraction process breaks the cells open, then collects and purifies the plastic.

Future

Genecis will opens its demonstration plant with an industry partner later next year, and will be able to convert three tonnes of organic waste into PHAs every week.

Genecis has already won more than $330,000 in prize money from startup competitions.

 

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