The European URBIOFIN BBI-project will focus on converting the organic fraction of municipal solid waste on a semi-industrial scale. The project, that will focus on the techno-economic and environmental feasibility will create chemical building blocks, biopolymers and/or additives 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 municipal solid waste. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research focuses on two specific topics in this project: the production of medium-chain length fatty acids and derived PHAs via microbial fermentation, and the scale-up, efficient extraction and novel commercial applications of these bioplastics.
As a building block for high quality products, sustainable fatty acids have interesting market applications says Hans Mooibroek, 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 so-called medium chain length PHAs (mcl-PHAs), which are suitable 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, Mooibroek explains: "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 agricultural side streams. In the URBIOFIN project both fermentation processes will be combined to produce mcl-PHAs efficiently.”
Transferring knowledge to commercial partners
URBIOFIN is a typical BBI demonstration project, Mooibroek explains: "We carry the technology that we develop in our lab on to partners who want to apply the process on an industrial scale. Together with our research partner AINIA from Valencia, which produces short chain fatty acids and PHAs from waste, we have recently visited another Spanish partner IRIAF/Clamber (providing upscaling services especially for research demo projects) to make sure that they have the knowledge and facilities for scaling up the fermentation and downstream processes.” Bringing the various PHAs to market is the task of commercial partners Stéfany Emballages Services (SES, France, packaging materials) and NaturePlast (France, supporting bioplastics applications development).
The 16 project partners in URBIOFIN are located in eight European countries, with Spanish engineering company IMECAL coordinating the project.