About This Project
Transitioning from fossil-based plastics to biobased alternatives is paramount for advancing environmental sustainability. To achieve desirable properties, biobased plastics often require formulation into blends, leading to heterogeneous waste streams. Through rational mutagenesis, this project aims to pioneer the development of highly specific enzymes for the targeted degradation of individual polyester types in mixed samples.
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What is the context of this research?
The widespread use of fossil-based plastics has given rise to a host of environmental challenges, such as pollution, resource depletion, and climate change. To address these pressing issues, it is imperative to transition from a linear, fossil-based plastic economy to a renewable circular economy for plastics. To achieve this, there is an urgent need to stop relying on fossil feedstocks for plastic production and optimize recycling strategies.
While biobased plastics present an alternative, a notable challenge lies in achieving the desired material properties for diverse applications, often requiring them to be formulated into blends. This blending approach results in mixed waste streams, posing formidable challenges for effective separation and recycling processes.
What is the significance of this project?
As biobased plastic alternatives continue to replace fossil-based materials, there will be an inevitable increase in mixed polymer waste streams. The chemical or physical separation of these materials poses significant challenges. However, a potential solution lies in enzymatic back-to-monomer recycling. Enzymes are highly suitable for the selective hydrolysis of condensation polymers under mild conditions. Moreover, these enzymes can be engineered to improve their properties and specificity.  
However, a remaining issue is the absence of selective and robust enzymes, capable of degrading a single polymer type within mixed samples. Developing such biocatalysts is a complex challenge that requires focused research and innovation.
What are the goals of the project?
Leveraging our in-house expertise in plastics and enzyme technologies, along with preliminary results demonstrating promising enzymatic activity and substrate specificity, this project aims to pioneer the development of highly specific enzymes for the targeted degradation of individual polymer types in mixed samples.
We intend to use our funding to introduce mutations to our in-house plastic degrading enzymes and set up a platform for screening the activity and specificity of the obtained mutants. We aim to enhance the catalytic activity of these enzymes to ensure selective hydrolysis of the target polymers under mild and sustainable conditions.
By successfully accomplishing these goals, our project will make significant advancements toward a circular plastics economy.
Detailed in Solution Statement
Detailed in Solution Statement
Dec 31, 2024
Meet the Team
This project will involve a collaboration between the Bioconversion group and the Sustainable Chemistry group within the research institute of Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. Together these groups will contribute an abundance of multidisciplinary expertise and state-of-the-art facilities to ensure the successful execution of this ambitious project.
Max Lubberink holds the position of Scientist at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. His research is dedicated to advancing enzymatic processes in support of the circular plastic economy. He previously completed his BSc degree in Biology and MSc degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and obtained his PhD degree at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, where his research focused on the enzymatic synthesis of pharmaceuticals and speciality chemicals.
Tom Ewing works as a research scientist at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. His work focusses on the application of enzymes for the production of chemicals from sustainable carbon sources and in recycling processes. Prior to joining Wageningen Food & Biobased Research in 2018, he obtained a PhD degree in the field of enzyme (bio)chemistry from Wageningen University.
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