Turning industrial waste into medical-grade plastic

August 29, 2017

Waste remade: a mining by-product is being developed into bioplastic.

Murdoch researchers have found a way to convert industrial waste into biodegradable plastic.

School of Engineering and Information Technology researchers Dr Damian Laird and Dr Leonie Hughes have been investigating an environmentally friendly solution for the use of oxalate, one of the major waste products of the alumina industry.

“We are interested in finding a use for carbon-based industrial waste, which is currently stockpiled or is difficult to treat,” Dr Laird said.

“By upcycling the carbon from a waste stream we are able to avoid the production of carbon dioxide whilst creating something useful.”

After sourcing an initial bacterial culture from a local wastewater treatment plant, the team created a synthetic wastewater to understand the conditions required for bacteria to convert the oxalate waste product into the biodegradable plastic.

The research team is now identifying the suite of bacteria that can work in the process and examining ways to increase the amount of oxalate that is converted.

“We are taking inspiration from the production of bioplastic from food waste and applying it to a toxic by-product of the alumina industry,” Dr Hughes said.

“This will be a naturally produced plastic that is biocompatible and completely biodegradable, and one of our goals is to 3D print products for the medical industry such as stents and sutures.”

The team is also collaborating with Murdoch University’s Algae Research and Development Centre to look at using cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), organisms that have a blend of bacteria and algae, to find a way to accelerate the process.

“Eventually we envision this bioplastic production forming part of an integrated biorefinery at Murdoch University,” Dr Hughes said.

This research was recently published in the Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering and can be read here.

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Media contact: Pepita Smyth
Tel: (08) 9360 1289  |  Mobile: 0417 171 551  |  Email: p.smyth@murdoch.edu.au
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