The sustainability of various plastic waste treatment methods is threatened by their negative effects, such as the emissions associated with these approaches. Carbios, a company formed in 2011, has found a superior solution by utilizing enzymes for the efficient and sustainable degradation of plastic polymers. It is the first company to implement this unique concept to combat plastic pollution.
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What Makes Carbios Unique?
Enzymes have found widespread applications in everyday products such as detergents, biofuels, food, textiles, and paper. However, utilizing enzymes for the degradation of plastic polymers and textiles for industrial purposes has not been a conventional practice.
Carbios stands out as the first and only company to efficiently integrate the core concepts of enzymology and plastics, and successfully demonstrate the use of enzymes for biodegradation of plastics.
Unlike traditional companies that focus on a single aspect of any industrial process, Carbios takes the lead in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic recycling. Its operational methodology unites the collectors, processors, and users on a single platform, contributing to the development of a sustainable circular economy.
This operational and management strategy is useful as it efficiently tackles the concerns and suggestions of all the stakeholders.
Carbios' technologies explained
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Hazards of PET
While there is no doubt plastic products are an essential part of human life, their durability poses a significant problem. The non-biodegradable nature of plastic has resulted in billions of tons of plastic waste, raising major concerns for many governments worldwide.
According to the United States Department of Energy, the worldwide production of PET for single-use beverage bottles, packaging, clothing, and carpets exceeds 82 million metric tons, making it a significant contributor to plastic waste.
Implementing a circular economy can extend the functional lifespan of molecules, enabling the production of virgin plastics while concurrently reducing waste, conserving resources, and enhancing overall efficiency.
This approach is instrumental in the development of a manufacturing model that minimizes the use of raw materials and energy, promoting a consumption mindset aimed at preventing plastic waste from ending up in landfills.
The Carbios Methodology: Optimized Functional Enzymes and Targeted Applications
The research team at Carbios uses cutting-edge technology to develop specific enzymes naturally present in our environment. The brilliant minds at Carbios optimize the functionality of these enzymes, focusing on their polymer degradation activity and heat resistance.
Not only does this ensure their industrial effectiveness, but the thermal stability of these functional enzymes also increases their durability in commercial processes.
The research and development efforts, which focus on the optimization and thermostability of enzymes, are primarily conducted through collaboration with the Toulouse Biotechnology Institute (TBI). Notably, the cooperative laboratory Plastic Polymers and Biotechnologies (PoPLaB), co-funded with the National Institute of Applied Sciences of Toulouse (INSA), plays a key role in these initiatives.
Novel Technologies Spearheaded by Carbios
Carbios has successfully developed proprietary enzymes with the capability to break down specific polyesters, particularly PET and polylactic acid (PLA). These optimized enzymes play a crucial role in two groundbreaking processes at Carbios: enzymatic recycling and the production of biodegradable plastics.
In the state-of-the-art enzymatic recycling process, an enzyme is employed to specifically depolymerize or break down the targeted plastic. Conventional thermomechanical recycling processes have various limitations—only clear plastic can be recycled in closed loops, resulting in a considerable loss of quality with each cycle.
This challenge makes it hard to obtain new products from 100 % recycled PET, and thus complex and soiled plastics are often difficult or impossible to recycle using current methods.
Unlike conventional processes, Carbios' innovative method can recycle all types of PET waste and produce 100 % recycled and 100 % recyclable PET products without any loss of quality. This groundbreaking approach transforms plastic and textile waste into valuable raw materials, turning the circular economy into an industrial reality.
The monomers (single chain units that make up polymers), derived from the depolymerization/breakdown process, undergo purification to be re-polymerized into PET of a quality equivalent to virgin PET obtained from the petrochemical industry. Carbios' unique process enables the recycling of diverse plastic materials, including clear, opaque, complex, or textile-origin plastics (polyesters), to generate new materials.
The enzymatic biodegradation process of PLA, developed by Carbios, is truly a unique solution. The enzyme capable of breaking down PLA is encapsulated and integrated into the manufacturing of flexible or rigid PLA packaging, without requiring any changes to production lines.
No major physical or chemical changes occur during the entire process, and the enzyme does not significantly alter any of the physiochemical properties. The functional enzyme remains dormant throughout the entire useful life cycle of the product.
The activation of the encapsulated enzyme only occurs under composting conditions (pH, humidity, temperature, and so on) when the packaging is collected with biowaste. This activation leads to complete disintegration and biodegradation, resulting in residue-free, non-toxic compost and a quality return to the soil.
Carbios has successfully established a manufacturing line with the capacity to handle 50,000 tonnes of compostable PLA, demonstrating the practical implementation of this innovative technology.
The company has actively engaged in various professional qualifications with major brands and plastics converters, assisting with the integration of Carbios' technology into their operations.
The Scientific World and Technological Sector Is All Praise for Carbios
The technological innovations by Carbios position it as the frontrunner in sustainability and plastic degradation technology. The efforts and projects initiated by Carbios have received praise at various levels.
This is evident in the French government’s decision to provide 42.5 million euros of funding to Carbios for the construction of the first PET biorecycling plant in France. An additional 11.4 million euros were granted to accelerate the development of Carbios' innovative enzymatic technologies.
In June 2021, Carbios achieved recognition as a technology pioneer by the World Economic Forum. In the same month, the company secured the "Grand Prix" in the Scale-Up Challenge at the World Materials Forum (WMF).
This award specifically acknowledged Carbios for its pioneering work in developing an enzymatic recycling process for PET waste, marking a significant milestone in the advancement of sustainable and innovative recycling technologies.
Carbios aims to complete the construction of the PET biorecycling plant in Longlaville by 2025, with the plant operating at the complete capacity of 50,000 metric tons. The statistics suggest that Carbios is best positioned to truly be the leader of the recycling domain, thanks to its unique model, innovative technology, skilled workforce, and the trust of the scientific community worldwide.
References and Further Reading
- Carbios. (2022). 2021 Sustainability Report. [Online] Carbios. Available at: https://www.carbios.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/2021_sustainability-report_web.pdf (Accessed on 12 December 2023).
- Carbios. (2023). 2023 Half Year Report. [Online] Carbios. Available at: https://www.carbios.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/2023-half-year-report_gb_web.pdf (Accessed on 12 December 2023).
- BBC. (2023). The T-Shirt Chewing Enzyme Ready to Tackle Plastic Waste. [Online] BBC. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-67496717 (Accessed on 12 December 2023).
- Carbios. (2023). Business Development Model. [Online] Carbios. Available at: https://www.carbios.com/en/business-development-model/ (Accessed on 11 December 2023).
- Carbios. (2023). Enzymatic Biodegradation. [Online] Carbios. Available at: https://www.carbios.com/en/enzymatic-biodegradation/ (Accessed on 10 December 2023).
- Carbios. (2023). Enzymatic Recycling. [Online] Carbios. Available at: https://www.carbios.com/en/enzymatic-recycling/ (Accessed on 9 December 2023).
- NREL, U.S. Department of Energy. (2021). Researchers Engineer Microorganisms To Tackle PET Plastic Pollution. [Online] NREL, U.S. Department of Energy. Available at: https://www.nrel.gov/news/program/2021/researchers-engineer-microorganisms-to-tackle-pet-plastic-pollution.html (Accessed on 12 December 2023).
- Carbios. (2023). Enzymes. [Online] Carbios. Available at: https://www.carbios.com/en/enzymes/ (Accessed on 9 December 2023).