Final Report: Renewable Bioplastics Production

EPA Contract Number: 68HE0D18C0011
Title: Renewable Bioplastics Production
Investigators: Imam, Dr. Tahmina
Small Business: Altex Technologies Corporation
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Phase: I
Project Period: October 1, 2018 through March 31, 2019
Project Amount: $99,998
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2018) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Manufacturing

Description:

The purpose of this project is to show technical, economic, and environmental feasibility of the Altex Renewable Bioplastics Production (RBP) process to produce Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) for Bioplastics production from lignocellulosic biomass. The RBP technology uses: first, biomass densification to lower transportation and storage cost; second, a novel pretreatment process to separate fibers that have much improved access of all biomass components to subsequent enzymatic hydrolysis and microbial fermentation; and third, a novel 1-step-biosynthesis via endogenous Pseudomonas putida route for conversion of pretreated biomass to PHA.

Under this project, Altex and Texas A&M University (TAMU) improved the novel pretreatment-and-microbial synthesis processes to increase PHA yield and showed feasibility of the RBP process. Design specifications and cost of a full scale bioreactor was defined and the RBP system design was updated to include this bioreactor with the existing upstream pretreatment system design. Several set of pretreatments, microbial synthesis and fermentation tests were performed to produce PHA at lab scale from the complete biomass structure. Finally, technical, economic and Green House Gas (GHG) emission evaluations were performed to determine bioplastics production-and-plant cost, and GHG savings from the RBP process. With Altex's technical approach in producing bioplastics, this project significantly impacts the health and environment of consumers.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

This novel Altex-pretreatment process ensured ideal feed-size for optimized-microbial-synthesis, while reducing grinding energy and enhancing biomass reactivity by 20% to achieve maximum bioplastics yield for the microbial synthesis and conversion process. The improved pretreatment under EPA-Phase I increased the biomass sugar conversion from 50% to 89% and increased lignin conversion from 12% to 32% to PHA for bioplastics production. Based on the improved RBP process, PHA yield up to 53% was achieved. The final bioplastics yield was 50% from the complete biomass (corn stover) structure. Economic analysis under the project showed that the production cost is competitive with plastic and a selling price competitive with plastics with a simple payback less than one year. Also, Altex RBP plant reduces GHG emissions by 0.84 to 152 MM tons/year depending on different biomass. This is significant effect on our environment. With the bioplastics plant, there would also be more jobs created for the economy.

Conclusions:

Currently, there is no process in the world that has converted the entire biomass structure to bioplastics, but the Altex RBP process. Most existing processes whether in research or pilot scale are using sugars and vegetable oil to produce bioplastics. Altex's ability to use any waste lignocellulosic biomass (feedstock-flexibility), and more importantly the whole structure of the biomass for bioplastics production makes a significant contribution to the world, human health, environment, and EPA as we hope to replace non-biodegradable toxic plastics. Altex's PHA for bioplastics production is not only bio-based and renewable, but also is biodegradable without the need for commercial biodegradation facility. Final bioplastics application and market is being defined with partners as Altex moves into characterizing its' final product and pursues certification tests of biodegradability.

Commercialization:

Commercialization of the RBP is extremely viable. The market is large and is growing and product's low cost and rapid payback will drive commercialization. The overall global market size was valued at $21.13 billion in 2017, and is projected to reach $68.58 billion by 2024, resulting in a Cumulative Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 18.8% from 2018 to 2024 with rigid packaging accounting for roughly one-third of the global market in terms of value.

The economics analysis under Phase I showed that the product cost is competitive with plastic and with a competitive sale price the payback is fast. Additionally, due to the significantly high yield and low cost nature of the RBP process for bioplastics production, it allows potential investors to invest in a smaller plant size without sacrificing on the yield and cost of the bioplastics production. These RBP attributes will drive its commercialization. Other drivers for the RBP and bioplastic market are the carbon foot-print and the consumer preference and adaption of green policies at federal, local or municipal levels. Bioplastics decompose in few months with no harm to the environment, while the petroleum based plastics remain in in landfills for 100 years. By reducing the bioplastics cost the RBP technology helps to overcome these barriers as bioplastics become a mainstream product

For the bioplastics produced from the Altex-RBP process, the targeted final customers are the ones that currently use petroleum-sourced plastic products.The business model is to license the technology to a plastic or bioplastic manufacturer who has access to these customers and has the manufacturing, marketing, sales and service capabilities that are needed by the customers. Under EPA-Phase I, Altex have already partnered with a bioplastics producing company to potentially participate in licensing and/or commercialization. As part of the licensing agreement, Altex will continue to perform additional R&D to improve the process, increase the yield, and lower the cost even further.


Journal Articles on this Report : 3 Displayed | Download in RIS Format

Other project views: All 3 publications 3 publications in selected types All 3 journal articles
Type Citation Project Document Sources
Journal Article Liu Z-H, Hao N, Shinde S, Pu Y, Kang X, Ragauskas AJ, Yuan JS:Defining lignin nanoparticle properties through tailored lignin reactivity by sequential organosolv fragmentation approach (SOFA). Green Chemistry 2019; 21(2):245-260. 68HE0D18C0011 (Final)
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  • Journal Article Liu Z-H, Le RK, Kosa M, Yang B, Yuan J, Ragauskas AJ:Identifying and creating pathways to improve biological lignin valorization. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 2019; 105:349-362 68HE0D18C0011 (Final)
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  • Journal Article Xu Z, Li X, Hao N, Pan C, Ahamed A, Miller JH, Ragauskas AJ, Yuan J, Yang B:Kinetic understanding of nitrogen supply condition on biosynthesis of polyhydroxyalkanoate from benzoate by Pseudomonas putida KT2440. Bioresource technology 2019; 273:538-544. 68HE0D18C0011 (Final)
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