A team at the University of Wolverhampton have used such bacteria called Ralstonia eutropha H16 to produce bioplastics. They noticed that the bacteria grew better in oil and produced three times more Poly 3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB) bioplastic than when it was grown in glucose.
“Electrospinning experiments, performed in collaboration with researchers from the University of Birmingham, showed that nanofibres of the plastic produced from oils were also less crystalline, which means the plastic is more suited to medical applications,” said Victor Irorere, the scientist responsible for the research.
PHB plastics are biodegradable and can be used in various medical applications such as drug delivery in cancer therapy and medical implants.
Glucose has been so far the starting material for feeding the bioplastic-producing bacteria, but its cost affected the final cost of the bioplastics, which made them expensive to buy. Waste oil, on the other hand, is worth next to nothing compared to glucose and by recycling it properly and using it in bioplastics, you also reduce the pollution caused by it.
Now, I wasn’t a good chemistry student, so I am asking you, my dear reader: what happens after these bioplastics degrade? They decompose into what? Is it methane they turn themselves into, or some other byproducts that could ultimately be toxic to the environment?
Producing bioplastics would surely reduce the marine pollution caused by them, but if they supposedly break up and release methane, isn’t that also harmful? I am eager to see your comments on this (if you know more than I do, of course).