University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Research project to turn bioplastics into viable alternative

Technological development — Plastics made from biomass are still too costly and too energy-intensive to be able to compete under normal market conditions. A UCPH scientist now wants to make this change.

When companies need plastic for plastic cups, clothes, computers or cosmetics, the cheapest way to get plastic is by making it directly from fossil raw materials like oil. This also ensures that the plastic has the required quality.

It is therefore, only one per cent of all plastics in our daily products that come from biomass. This ‘organic’ type of plastic is also called bio-polymer, which turns into bioplastic and biomaterials, which are more easily degraded in nature than traditional plastics.

But until now it has been more expensive and more difficult to produce biopolymers than the plastics from fossil raw materials. This is what Domenico Sagnelli from the Department of Plant and Environmental Science at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) wants to change.

To be new green technology

In an international research project funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark, Domenico Sagnelli, together with researchers from the University of Nottingham, are using so-called enzymatic purification with supercritical fluids.

This is how long it takes to break down plastic

Traditional plastic is a very difficult to biologically degrade. It takes, for example, up to 1,000 years before a plastic bottle is broken down in nature.

This is according to the Independent Research Fund Denmark in a press release.

The supercritical fluid technology can be described as a new green technology to make (bio) polymers which are more simple and less energy- and resource-consuming than the industrial processes that so far have been used to produce that one percent of all plastics which today are made from biomass.

Goal: Get rid of all fossil-based plastics

In collaboration with several Danish companies, Domenico Sagnelli and his colleagues have set the bar high:

“Our goal is to develop and implement 100 per cent natural first class bioplastics and biomaterials by using industrial biomass, and in this way completely eliminate fossil-based plastics,” says Sagnelli about the future.

The technology should also reduce energy costs for the production of bioplastics and allow the production of bioplast to compete with ‘fossil plastic’.