By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.
On October 16, 2019, the University of Surrey, United Kingdom, announced that its researchers have partnered with colleagues from France, Germany, and Spain to start working on a new technique to tackle plastic waste. According to the university’s article, this novel technique may revolutionize the recycling industry. The plan is to create engineered microbial communities that will digest two types of plastic polymers -- polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyurethane (PU) -- and transform them into molecules that can be used to develop a more environmentally friendly material called Bio-PU. This more environmentally friendly material is often used as a construction and insulation material.
According to the University of Surrey, current physical or chemical methods to degrade PET and PU are inefficient. Impurities in PET polymers and high energy costs associated with the high temperatures required to break down the material make its degradation very difficult. Similarly, degradation of PU is limited due to the difficulty in breaking down urethane bonds in the material. Given these challenges, University of Surrey Senior Lecturer in synthetic biology Dr. Jose Jimenez highlights that “[m]oving away from the reliance on single use plastics is a positive step; however, the problem of how we deal with current plastic waste still needs to be addressed.” Hence, the project will investigate the ability of microorganisms to digest plastic waste and turn it into a more environmentally friendly material that can be recycled.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On December 18, 2018, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency of the United Kingdom (UK) published a policy paper titled “Our Waste, Our Resources: A Strategy for England.” The paper outlines the strategy to be implemented for the preservation of material resources through minimizing waste, promoting resource efficiency, and moving towards a circular economy. The strategic framework to be put forth is guided by two objectives: (1) to maximize the value of resource use; and (2) to minimize waste and its impact on the environment. It aims to deliver five strategic ambitions to work towards:
- Assuring that all plastic packaging on the market be reusable, recycled, or compostable by 2025;
- Eliminating food waste to landfill by 2030;
- Eliminating avoidable plastic waste over the lifetime of the 25 Year Environment Plan;
- Doubling resource productivity by 2050; and
- Eliminating avoidable waste of all kinds by 2050.
Meant to complement other government strategies related to environment and resource productivity, the framework focuses on innovation. The strategy, for example, includes the launching of a call for evidence on the development of standards for biobased and biodegradable plastics in early to mid-2019. Highlighting the potential use of biowaste in the production of biogas, the paper defines what is called a “lifecycle” approach that complements the model of a circular economy. To grow the UK’s bioeconomy, this “lifecycle” approach is designed to reduce waste through reusing biodegradable and biobased products to extend the lifetime of resources. It would include the production of a waste hierarchy and food surplus for animal feed or biomaterial processing, increasing resource efficiency and waste reduction.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On December 5, 2018, the United Kingdom (UK) published a policy paper titled “Growing the Bioeconomy, Improving Lives and Strengthening Our Economy: A National Bioeconomy Strategy to 2030.” As the UK strives to double its bioeconomy value by 2030, four main goals are outlined as part of the strategic plan:
- Capitalize the research, development, and innovation base;
- Maximize productivity and potential from existing bioeconomy assets;
- Deliver real, measurable benefits for the UK economy; and
- Create the right societal and market conditions to allow innovative biobased products and services to thrive.
Emphasizing the need for collaboration, the paper reports that the transformations necessary to achieve these goals will be led by regional and national government agencies, research councils, universities, and industrial leaders. The vision is that in 2030 the UK will be the global leader in developing, manufacturing, using, and exporting biobased solutions. The outlined strategy takes into account the global challenges facing the world right now and how the bioeconomy can play a critical role in addressing them. The intention is for a new government group to be created in support of the strategy and its related activities.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On July 20, 2018, the United Kingdom’s (UK) Department of Transportation launched a consultation to explore the impact of introducing E10 fuel to the UK market. Earlier this year, changes were made to the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) that requires transport fuel supplies to increase the amount of renewable fuel supplied in the UK beyond the current five percent ethanol blend, up to a limit of ten percent by 2032. This plan is a component of the Road to Zero Strategy, announced on July 9, 2018, a commitment by the UK government to dramatically reduce transport emissions and move towards a zero emissions future. The consultation is seeking views on:
- Whether and how to introduce E10 petrol in the UK;
- The reintroduction of an E5 protection grade to ensure standard petrol remains available at an affordable price; and
- The introduction of new fuel labeling at petrol pumps and on new cars.
Responses are being accepted through September 16, 2018.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On April 10, 2018, Vivergo Fuels announced that it was re-opening its bioethanol plant following the passing of the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO). The Vivergo plant, the largest plant in the United Kingdom (UK) and the second largest producer of bioethanol in Europe, was originally shut down due to unfavorable trading conditions and uncertainty about the future of renewable fuel policies. RTFO will increase the use of renewable fuels in transport from current levels of 4.75 percent to 9.75 percent by 2020, but Vivergo is now calling for the introduction of E10 fuel by the end of 2018. E10 is widely used in the United States, as well as France, Germany, Belgium, Finland, Canada, and Australia. Vivergo argues that introducing E10 in the UK would provide an immediate impact on transport emissions, provide high quality employment in the region, and spur further investment in renewables.
On November 29, 2016, the United Kingdom (UK) Department of Transportation published proposed legislative changes to the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), which is open for consultation until January 22, 2017. Among the proposed changes is an increase in the blending mandates to 9.75 percent by volume for 2020. The three main proposals outlined detail increasing the supply of waste derived fuels, encouraging the production of advanced renewable fuels, and setting a maximum cap for fuels from food crops. The aim of the consultation is to determine whether further measures could be taken to minimize costs.
The RTFO was established to achieve the targets for renewable energy usage in the transportation sector set by the European Union by incentivizing fuel suppliers to provide biofuels at the lowest cost possible. The objective is to encourage investment in renewable fuels so that the relative cost of biofuels decreases over time.
Kingdom (UK) Department for Transport (DfT) announced the launch of a £25
million competition for funding to build advanced biofuel plants.
The funding will eventually lead to the construction of up to three
demonstration level advanced biofuel plants in the UK. In order to qualify for
funding, the biofuels being produced need to have at least 60 percent
reductions in greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels and be made
from waste materials. Potential bidders have until February 13, 2015, to
provide a detailed expression of interest, with full proposals due in June 2015. The
demonstration plants that are constructed as a result of this competition are
expected to produce one million liters or more of biofuel per year and be
operational by December
information for the Advanced Biofuels Demonstration Competition is available