Eliminating Plastic Wastes - Using Thermophiles in the Bioconversion of Pre-treated Plastic Wastes

Ashlyn Hemmah, Dana Skorupa, Brent Peyton, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Montana State University, 100 Culbertson Hall, Bozeman, MT 59717

Plastics are one of the most prevent pollutants on the planet, with most landfilled or incinerated after use. Finding a plausible plastic recycling system is a pertinent issue in our modern world. Currently large-scale recycling only exists for plastic materials classified as type #1 or type #2, leaving types #3 through #7 largely untouched. Plastics are often linear carbon polymers that range from 10,000 to 100,000 carbons in length, making them strong and hard to break down. Recently several species of bacteria and fungi have been found to convert short-chain carbon substrates into either wax esters (WEs), polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), or dicarboxylic acids (DCAs). These value-added products can be directly incorporated into biofuels, cosmetics, bioplastics, and industrial chemicals. By pairing these high-production strains with a microorganism capable of breaking down long-chain oxidized waxes (heat degraded plastic polymers) into shorter, readily digestible carbon compounds, one could create an viable recycling system for #3-7 plastics. The process of melting and degrading plastics into oxidized waxes requires high temperatures, thus it is desirable to find a thermophile which can function metabolically at elevated temperatures. In this manner, costs associated with the recycling process would be reduced significantly. Work here sought to cultivate thermophiles capable of metabolizing long-chain (>C30) oxidized waxes as a primary carbon and energy source. Thermophilic enrichment cultures were established from water samples collected from a variety of high temperature hot springs in the Heart Lake Geyser Basin region of Yellowstone National Park.  Promising cultures were tracked via cell counts and measured for carbon degradation activity using Gas Chromatography. The microbial consortia and/or isolates obtained would be the first thermophiles detected capable of degrading long-chain oxidized waxes at high temperatures (70 C). Thus, providing a meaningful step forward in the development of an economically viable recycling system for #3-7 plastic wastes.

Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Ashlyn Hemmah

Institution: Montana State University

Type: Poster

Subject: Microbiology

Status: Approved

Time and Location

Session: Poster 8
Date/Time: Tue 5:00pm-6:00pm
Session Number: 5635