Micromidas, Inc. has turned its green eye on wastewater, and it is seeing gold. The company has developed a strain of microbes that can convert the carbon in wastewater into PHA (polyhydroxylalkanoate), a high performance plastic. PHA biodegrades quickly in compost piles and landfills, but otherwise it behaves the same or better than conventional petroleum-based plastic. It resists water and odor permeation, and it holds up under high temperature and exposure to sun. As a sustainable alternative to petroleum as a plastics feedstock, wastewater could be setting the gold standard.
Bioplastic from Wastewater
Micromidas isn’t the only one to see carbon-rich wastewater – the stuff that goes into your local sewage treatment plant – as the logical successor to petroleum as a plastics feedstock. Just last year the University of California-Davis completed a study of wastewater-to-bioplastics under an EPA grant, and concluded that “recycling bio-waste into plastics is capable of far reaching benefits.” Among other things, the research team pointed out that solids collected during the sewage treatment process give off greenhouse gasses when disposed in landfills. In effect, converting these solids into plastics would sequester a large amount of carbon. It dovetails neatly with other resource recovery operations blossoming at wastewater treatment plants, including electricity, waste-to-energy, and fuel production.
Micromidas and Bioplastics from Wastewater
Micromidas takes the wastewater feedstock ball and runs with it, noting that petroleum price spikes have contributed to devastating volatility in plastics manufacturing. In contrast, municipal wastewater virtually guarantees a steady supply of feedstock rich in carbon from human waste. Aside from the potential for long term price stability and potential for managing global warming through carbon sequestration, the many advantages of wastewater-to-bioplastics over petroleum include easing pressure on landfills, converting a municipal waste disposal liability into a marketable asset, reducing the amount of petroleum-based plastic in the waste stream, and virtually eliminating environmental disasters related to oil spills and accidents. Add the logistical and job-creation advantages of siting bioplastic manufacturing facilities near the feedstock source, and it’s a no-brainer.
Next Step for Micromidas
Earlier this summer, Micromidas was announced as a semi-finalist in the Clean Tech Open competition. Clean Tech is dedicated to advancing clean technology startup companies, and Micromidas joined other semifinalists in a summer program designed to provide office infrastructure, legal and accounting services, and other support to help build and pitch a business plan to a panel of judges this fall. Winners and runners-up will be announced in November.
Image: greenmelinda on flickr.com.