Innovation That Matters

| Photo source Teslariu Mihai on Unsplash

Artificial photosynthesis for biodegradable plastic


Researchers have developed a new pathway for manufacturing a traditionally petroleum-based product using solar energy

Spotted: By now, just about everyone is familiar with the issues surrounding plastic – one of these being that it is derived from fossil fuels. Because of this, even biodegradable plastics contribute CO2 emissions during their manufacture. But what if plastics could be synthesised from recycled CO2 in the first place, using renewable energy? This is what a group of researchers at Osaka Metropolitan University set out to demonstrate.

The research team, led by Professor Yutaka Amao from the Research Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, has developed a way to manufacture raw materials using CO2 and sunlight. In natural photosynthesis, CO2 is bound to organic compounds that are then converted by the organism into glucose or starch. In artificial photosynthesis, sunlight provides the energy to combine CO2 with other organic compounds and create new raw materials.

One of these raw materials is fumaric acid, which is used to make biodegradable plastics and is normally derived from petroleum. With the new method, the researchers have succeeded in developing a more sustainable pathway for synthesising fumaric acid.

Professor Amao explains: “Toward the practical application of artificial photosynthesis, this research has succeeded in using visible light — renewable energy — as the power source. In the future, we aim to collect gaseous CO2 and use it to synthesize fumaric acid directly through artificial photosynthesis.”

Plastic is a ubiquitous and useful substance, but it is also highly unsustainable. Springwise has spotted a wide number of innovations aimed at tackling the plastic scourge. These include everything from finding a way to eliminate plastics in everyday products, to developing fossil fuel-free alternatives.

Written By: Lisa Magloff




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