Each year, significant quantities of used edible oils are discharged into the sewer system. Engineering students at Sup’Biotech decided to tackle the problem. They are developing an ecological and economical process to recycle these oils into bioplastics.
Emptied into the pipes, oils can clog them by freezing. They can also affect the capacities of sewage treatment plants. Mixed with other household waste, they disrupt recycling and are a source of pollution. When dumped into the environment, they have a negative impact on the environment.
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A solution to the problem of processing edible oils
It is precisely to find a solution to the problem of processing these edible oils that students from Sup’Biotech, a school of biotechnology engineers (Paris), have come up with the Bioplast Oil project. The objective is to produce a bioplastic for industrial use from used edible oils. “In addition to meeting strong demand for alternatives to petrochemical plastics, we are working towards the goal of a zero-waste society as desired by Europe,” explained Pierre-Antoine Bar, the project leader.
“Today’s bioplastics production faces three challenges: competition with food production — because bioplastics are usually made from plant materials such as wheat, corn or potatoes — the use of chemical reagents and an extraction phase that is energy-intensive and consumes a lot of harmful solvents,” said the project leader. “We decided to tackle all of these issues to design a completely green and economical solution.”
The project started in 2017, as part of the Sup’Biotech Innovation Project program, and the small group of six students quickly decided on a bioplastic production process. It consists of degrading used edible oils to transform them into bioplastics using bacteria. At the moment, Pierre-Antoine Bar and his scientific manager, Maxime Laheurte, are taking their project to a final internship with a view to creating a company.
A bioplastic for many applications
“The support of Sup’Biotech has been invaluable to us. In particular, it enabled us to consider all aspects of the development of our project, from highly technical aspects to more economic or societal aspects,” said the Bioplast Oil project leader. “Today, we enjoy the national status of student-entrepreneur, which allows us to continue to carry out our project while being advised and accompanied by teachers and professionals.”
Recently, the duo has been moving up a gear, thanks to the Shaker program offered by the Genopole bio cluster. “It gives us access to laboratories and resources that we didn’t have at school. Our aim is to develop a proof of concept within three months,” continued Pierre-Antoine Bar.
Bioplast Oil project needs the expertise of a polymer chemist
The two student entrepreneurs are just beginning their full-time work within their structure, to evolve at the technical level so that the Bioplast Oil project can gain maturity. Currently, the two entrepreneurs are looking to combine the expertise of a polymer chemist.
“The polymer we’re looking for is very interesting because it promises to be bio-sourced, biodegradable and biocompatible. This will make it interesting for many industrial sectors,” said the project leader. “It could, for example, advantageously replace the plastics used for fishing, which today make up 40% of plastic waste in the seas.”
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