The Lindbergh Foundation Believes that Innovative Science and Technology Hold the Key to Addressing Humanity’s Environmental and Productivity Challenges

Dr. Chi-Hua Ho

Dr. Chi-Hua Ho, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX

“Producing Biodegradable Plastics from Wastewater”

Category: Waste Management and Minimization: 2008

Non-degradable plastics in packaging and other products clog landfills around the world and pose a significant solid-waste disposal problem. In fact, plastics made from petrochemicals are accumulating in the environment at the rate of 25 million tons per year. Recent efforts to combat this problem have focused on biodegradable plastics made from microbially-produced polymers – polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). PHAs are completely biodegradable, but the current costs for producing plastics from PHAs are approximately 10 times higher than conventional plastics. To improve efficiency of PHAs production, which would benefit the cost reduction of plastics, it is imperative to use suitable microorganisms with optimized conditions that can rapidly produce high levels of PHAs in wastewater systems.

Using a "Trash" to "Treasure" approach, Dr. Ho plans to transform activated sludge from wastewater (trash) into biodegradable plastics (treasure) by using microbial technology to produce PHAs. She hopes that molecular fingerprinting methods will enable her to determine which microbes are the most successful at producing PHAs. Once she has successfully produced PHAs using activated sludge, the volume of waste disposed of from wastewater treatment plants will be reduced and an economical solution for creating biodegradable plastics will be available. Because wastewater treatment plants are found throughout the world, many nations could use this process, which would minimize a waste disposal problem while simultaneously reducing our dependence on petroleum oil and protecting our environment. Dr. Chi-Hua Ho


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