A Biodegradable plastic made from waste methane

Author(s): National Science Foundation

What if we could make the Great Pacific Garbage Patch just disappear? What if plastics didn’t accumulate in our landfills? What if we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions while replacing up to 30 percent of the world’s plastics with a biodegradable substitute?

Researchers have tried for decades to achieve these goals. One approach being taken is the development of an efficient production process for poly-hydroxyalkanoate (PHA)–a biodegradable polymer similar to the polypropylene used to make yogurt containers.

Scientists at Stanford University and a Palo Alto, Calif.-based start-up company called Mango Materials have come up with a new way to make PHA from waste methane gas. And, with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Mango Materials is advancing the process toward commercialization.

PHA is a biodegradable polyester that is produced naturally inside some bacteria under conditions of excess carbon and limited nutrient availability. Processes being developed to make PHA at a commercial scale typically involve bacteria strains that have been genetically modified to boost production and corn-based sugar as the carbon source.