The Innovation Campus showcases the most innovative scientific approaches in the area of industrial biotechnology and bioeconomy in a dedicated poster presentation in the exhibition.
Congratulations to the EFIB 2021 poster winner
(c) David Bohmann
“Bioemerger project: Biotechnological solutions for the sustainable management of polyurethane foam waste”
Poster author: Marta Munoz Martí, CETEM
Read the interview with the poster author below in order to get to know more about the bioemerger project.
The main challenge of Bioemerger project is to overcome the problem of the recalcitrant nature of polyurethane. This material is a thermoset polymer, which means that, once synthesized, it is very difficult to depolymerize. This is a big problem for the polyurethane foam sector, since a large amount of byproducts are produced annually, which are currently destined for burning or landfill. In the best case, certain percentage of this waste can be mechanically recycled and used in lower value products, such as pillow filling or carpets. There are also new and promising strategies that consist of the chemical recycling of polyurethane through depolymerization and recovery of its raw material, such as glycolysis. However, these chemical processes require very extreme conditions, especially very high pressures and temperature, which make this process far from being sustainable. Therefore, the main objective of Bioemerger project is to develop new and sustainable ways of managing polyurethane foam waste through green chemistry and biotechnology.
We are addressing three different approaches in the framework of biotechnology. The first one is the reuse and valorization of foam waste in other industrial sectors. Specifically, foams are being studied as vegetal substrates in the agricultural sector due to their excellent absorption/release capacity for biostimulants and as feedstock for biofuels production in the energy sector. The second one is the study of polyurethane biodegradation by different microorganisms and insects and their related enzymes. The objective is to understand and study how these organisms and enzymes attack polyurethane structure and to enhance this capacity through selective pressure and optimal work conditions. The last one is the chemical/biotechnological recycling of the material. Different catalysts (chemicals and enzymes) combined with ionic liquids were analyzed for the depolymerization of polyurethane and the recovery of raw materials: polyols, and isocyanate. The optimal scenario and the ultimate goal of Bioemerger project is to reintroduce recovered polyols into new polyurethane formulations.
As I have mentioned previously, the expected results are obtaining polyols and amines from the depolymerization of polyurethane, which could be used in the synthesis of new materials. If they are incorporated into polyurethane foams formulations, the loop will be completely closed, achieving a perfect scenario for the polyurethane sector. But, otherwise, these recovered chemical products will be studied for other applications in chemical, automotive o energy sector, for example. In addition, through our reuse and valorization strategies in agricultural and energy sectors, polyurethane foams are expected to find a second life after disposal.
Bioemerger is an intersectoral and interdisciplinary project that joins academia to industry. The consortium is made up of two companies, a large polyurethane foam manufacturer (Interplasp) and a biotechnology start-up specialized in fungi (Microgaia Biotech); three public research centers associated with universities (CBAS-CSIC, University of Murcia, and University of Sevilla) and two technological centers, halfway between research and industry (CETEM and CETENMA).
We are going to start the last year of the project in the next January and we have already achieved most of our objectives, such as establishing a functional method to degrade the polyurethane foam with a procedure that combines chemical processes and a specific enzymatic cocktail; demonstrate the high foam biodegradation capacity of an insect; and obtaining polyol from the polyurethane foam depolymerization through a hydrolysis process.