URBIOFIN: from municipal waste to bioplastics and other high-value applications

The European URBIOFIN BBI-project will focus on converting the organic fraction of urban waste on a semi-industrial scale. The project, that will focus on the techno-economic and environmental feasibility will create chemical building blocks, biopolymers, additives and bio-fertilizers using the biorefinery concept ‘urban biorefinery’.

Ultimately, URBIOFIN offers a new feasible and more sustainable scenario alternative to the current treatment of the organic fraction of urban waste. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research focuses on two specific topics in this project: the production of medium-chain length fatty acids and derived mcl-PHA via microbial fermentation, and the scale-up, efficient extraction and novel commercial applications of PHA.

Biodegradable plastics

“As a building block for high quality products, sustainable fatty acids have interesting market applications”, says Frits de Wolf, project manager at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. “'In this project we are focusing on the conversion of fatty acids to PHAs. A key advantage of these microbial plastics is that they are produced from renewable resources and are completely bio-degradable. Our specific objective is to produce mcl-PHA, which is expected to be a suitable ingredient, next to another PHA type developed in URBIOFIN, for high value applications such as biodegradable agricultural plastics or biomaterials for the cosmetics industry.”

Two-step fermentation process

The production of PHAs occurs in stages."In the first step, we use short chain fatty acids from solid biomass and employ our intricate knowledge on fermentation technology. We put a yeast to work that converts the carbohydrates into longer chain fatty acids. We have a considerable track record on mcl-fatty acid production and mcl PHA-production using the yeast Cryptococcus curvatus and the soil bacterium Pseudomonas putida respectively. Both organisms grow well on a variety of organic side streams. In the URBIOFIN project both fermentation processes will be combined to produce mcl-PHAs efficiently. To make the process more simplified and cheaper, we further investigate the possibility to produce mcl-PHA from municipal waste without producing first long fatty acids with Cryptococcus.”

Transferring knowledge to commercial partners

URBIOFIN is a typical BBI demonstration project. "We carry the technology that we develop in our lab on to partners who want to apply the process on an industrial scale. Bringing the various PHA to market is the task of commercial partners.

The 17 project partners in URBIOFIN are located in eight European countries, with Spanish engineering company IMECAL coordinating the project.