*Translated and adapted from the original article published at Avans Punt
Sewage water contains all kinds of valuable substances. PHA is a bioplastic made by bacteria existent in sewage water and it can be degraded by them again. So it could be good replacement for all the plastic that, for example, contains your salad or smoothie and that normally ends up on the mountain of waste. At the Center of Expertise Biobased Economy of Avans and Hogeschool Zeeland, Brazilian students conduct research to produce PHA from sewage water.
Tielly Lubiana de Menezes and Thalles Mercês Carreiro, from the Universidade Federal de Viçosa, are working to obtain PHA from sewage water.
Bacteria convert so-called "volatile fatty acids" in the sewage water into PHA as their own energy storage. The students ensure, in a bioreactor, the ideal conditions for "fattening" the bacteria. They therefore create more PHA. "Compare it with the human body," says Thalles. "The more food is eaten, the more fat the body makes."
If the bacteria are frozen from the bioreactor and a "green" solvent is added, only the PHA remains. "After removing the solvent, you only have the bioplastic," says Tielly. "A film, as it were." In the future, bioplastics like PHA will be able to replace the plastic of disposable packaging, such as snacks.
In their own country, Tielly and Thalles see how urgent the plastic problem is. "There is a lot of pollution in Brazil," says Tielly. “You see plastic everywhere on the beaches. We will take our insights back with us, but we do not have the resources to continue the investigation. We are not there yet."
As part of Living Lab Biobased Brazil, Brazilian students are doing an internship at Avans and Dutch students at educational institutions in Brazil. They participate in sustainability and biobased economy projects.