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Researchers Develop Bioplastic that Can Be Broken Down to Liquid Fuel

Researchers at New York’s Polytechnic University have bioengineered a fuel-latent plastic from plant-derived fatty acids that can subsequently be broken down into a diesel-like liquid fuel for use in generators.

Professor Richard Gross, director of Polytechnic University’s National Science Foundation (NSF) Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing of Macromolecules (CBBM) developed the new bioplastic. He partnered with DNA 2.0, a biotechnology company specializing in gene synthesis, to develop the enzymes that can both synthesize and break down the fuel-latent plastic after its use.

We showed DARPA that we could make a new plastic from plant oils that has remarkable properties, which includes being tougher and more durable than typical polyethylenes. Additionally, the bioplastic can be placed in a simple container where it is safely broken down to liquid fuel.

—Prof. Gross

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Mobile Integrated Sustainable Energy Recovery (MISER) program has awarded the researchers $2.34 million to advance this technology and transfer it to industry.

MISER’s goal is to improve the logistics of land-based military operations by reducing the quantities of solid waste from packaging materials that require personnel, fuel, and critical transport equipment for removal. Plastic packaging has energy content that approaches that of diesel fuel. The DARPA work is designed specifically to achieve nearly complete plastic packaging waste reduction while harnessing 90% of the packaging energy content for use in electricity generation.

DARPA had provided the original seed grant to Prof. Gross as well as a $1.1 million Phase 1 grant follow-up to the researchers in 2004.

Military units generate substantial quantities of packaging waste when engaging in stationary field operations. If we can turn this waste into fuel, we will see a double benefit—we will reduce the amount of waste that we have to remove, and we will reduce the amount of new fuel that we must deliver to the units.

—Khine Latt, program manager for DARPA’s Mobile Integrated Sustainable Energy Recovery program

Professor Gross was responsible for the design and testing of the polymer, while DNA 2.0 designed and developed the enzymes used for the biological route to production. The polymer has properties similar to polyethylene and will be prepared from renewable resources with a cost comparable to current commercially manufactured plastics. Unlike polyethylene, the new bioplastics have a special structure that allows them to be converted to liquid fuel.

Development of a biological route to synthesis of these polymers required engineering of several enzymes. DNA 2.0’s DeNovo Genes protein engineering technology uses protein sequence mining methods and machine learning algorithms to design small numbers of variants that are tested directly for commercially relevant protein properties. By quantifying the contributions of individual amino acids to the desired activity, further improved variants are then designed.

The next phase of the research will entail developing a more efficient low-cost process for both manufacturing the bioplastic and converting it into fuel.

Professor Green received a Presidential Green Chemistry Award in 2003 for his development of lipase-catalyzed polymer synthesis. The use of enzymes reduces the activation energy of polymerizations and thus decreases process energy consumption. Further, the regioselectivity of lipases can be used to polymerize polyols directly.




Neat technology. Awesome use of govt research funds and now it's time to get the fast food industry on board!


MRE's already feed the troops. Plastic trash from the packaging could fuel their patrol vehicles.


That wouldn't come to all that much fuel, but when you consider the mass of shipping crates and such (which could be made out of plastic also) it could get a lot bigger.  At the limit, this could become a freighter/fuel-tanker glider (probably a flying wing) made of foamed plastic and skinned with solid.  It would be towed into the air, released well out of the enemy's gunnery range, and auto-land where convenient for the troops.  After unloading the freight and liquid fuel, the glider itself is broken down for more fuel.  What's left is a guidance package and some mechanical parts.

On the civilian side, getting rid of plastic waste would be wonderful.  If every plastic recycle bin emptied straight into a fuel processor and every grocery bag had a second life bringing the groceries to the store, the reduction in trash would be delightful.  And if the machines taking the returnable plastic bottles output diesel fuel instead of bins full of solid, it could turn a cost center into profit.


Yes, but my remark above was not supposed to be taken seriously.


Apparently, it is a failed attempt at being absurdly funny.


It was a little too realistic to be taken as absurdity, I guess.


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Cheryl Ho

there are DME developments inChina today:
We see great potential for DME as a clean alternative fuel . The present diesel oil is a major source of air pollution from diesel engine of trucks and busses in large city like Tokyo. The potential market of diesel oil substitute is larger than LPG. DME is one of ideal fuel for diesel engine. DME vehicles were demonstratively manufactured in Japan, China and Korea and their driving test already started. Practical durability fleet test of a DME truck is under going in Japan.

We are pleased to organise a conference on China taking the lead in the DME market in production from coal and Japan and Korea activities.

If you would like to know more on COAL to Syngas to DME developments, join us at upcoming North Asia DME / Methanol conference in Beijing, 27-28 June 2007, St Regis Hotel. The conference covers key areas which include:

DME productivity can be much higher especially if
country energy policies makes an effort comparable to
that invested in increasing supply.
National Development Reform Commission NDRC
Ministry of Energy for Mongolia

Production of DME/ Methanol through biomass
gasification could potentially be commercialized
Shandong University completed Pilot plant in Jinan and
will be sharing their experience.

Advances in conversion technologies are readily
available and offer exciting potential of DME as a
chemical feedstock
By: Kogas, Lurgi and Haldor Topsoe

Available project finance supports the investments
that DME/ Methanol can play a large energy supply role
By: International Finance Corporation

For more information: www.iceorganiser.com


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