Thierry Ferreira Professor of the University of Poitiers gave us a very interesting talk, where he told us about his research work on plastics degradation, but at the same time shared with us the experience and the process of starting a company.
Modern society has evolved into a society where the use of plastics is held in every activity on a daily basis. Almost every product that we use day after day contains plastic, being polyethilene one of the petroleum sub-products most widely used. The amount of polymers that are produced and the way their wastes are treated, have generated several concerns. This materials, are based on compounds that take a long time to decompose, between 400 to 1000 years. There are environmental problems related to the presence and the permanent increasing amount of plastic in the environment.
Under the exposed reality, many initiatives have been launched in recent years to tackle the environmental problems that plastic wastes are generating. One of the first solutions was to mix treated plastic with other products. The objective was to reduce the amount of plastic; nevertheless, the consumption and demand for plastic products continues to increase. Furthermore, in many cases these mixtures do not have the adequate physical properties to be used in many plastic applications and products. Another alternative, was to create polymers that come from renewable sources that could also decay easily. The poly-lactic acid is one of these, is a substance that can decompose under special conditions (temperature, moist, etc.).
The project Thanaplast is an initiative that uses knowledge in microbiology and molecular biology, to develop a new bio-degradable plastic. It aims to generate a compound that has the same physical properties of a traditional polymers, but at the same time it could decay in a short period of time, if wanted.
In order to accomplish this objective, the strategy that was implemented had some stages of research and development:
1) Find a material that is produced industrially, in this case poly-lactic acid.
2) Find strains of bacteria that were effective in the degradation of this material.
3) Identify and isolate the enzymes that decompose the polymer.
4) Introduce the enzyme in the plastic to increase the rate of degradation.
5) Develop and upscale the industrial process.
The project is working fine, they have identify bacteria and enzymes that are able to decompose plastic materials, and at this moment they are working in the upscale and industrialization of one of its products.
The seminar was complemented with some financial and managing concepts. In all the stages of the project, money is needed. The project Thanaplast used a commercial strategy in order to raise the funds that were needed for all the research activities. In this moment Carbios, a private company, was created and got in charge of structuring a company. Carbios no only was in charge of the managing and merchandising of the project, but it is a company with shares in the auction market. This particular strategy helped to raise the funds, and actually made the first investments profitable. The project is a good example where partners from different areas and with different talents, get together to work with a common objective. Microbiologist worked in the bacteria strains, plastic experts worked in the physic-chemical conditions to be able to upscale the products, administrators managed the company, and everybody are working as a team.
Aye Myat Thandar, Felipe Gast, José A. Vaca Jones.