JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Carbon-rich wastes as feedstocks for biodegradable polymer (polyhydroxyalkanoate) production using bacteria

Jasmina Nikodinovic-Runic, Maciej Guzik, Shane T Kenny, Ramesh Babu, Alan Werker, Kevin E O Connor
Advances in Applied Microbiology 2013, 84: 139-200
23763760
Research into the production of biodegradable polymers has been driven by vision for the most part from changes in policy, in Europe and America. These policies have their origins in the Brundtland Report of 1987, which provides a platform for a more sustainable society. Biodegradable polymers are part of the emerging portfolio of renewable raw materials seeking to deliver environmental, social, and economic benefits. Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are naturally-occurring biodegradable-polyesters accumulated by bacteria usually in response to inorganic nutrient limitation in the presence of excess carbon. Most of the early research into PHA accumulation and technology development for industrial-scale production was undertaken using virgin starting materials. For example, polyhydroxybutyrate and copolymers such as polyhydroxybutyrate-co-valerate are produced today at industrial scale from corn-derived glucose. However, in recent years, research has been undertaken to convert domestic and industrial wastes to PHA. These wastes in today's context are residuals seen by a growing body of stakeholders as platform resources for a biobased society. In the present review, we consider residuals from food, plastic, forest and lignocellulosic, and biodiesel manufacturing (glycerol). Thus, this review seeks to gain perspective of opportunities from literature reporting the production of PHA from carbon-rich residuals as feedstocks. A discussion on approaches and context for PHA production with reference to pure- and mixed-culture technologies is provided. Literature reports advocate results of the promise of waste conversion to PHA. However, the vast majority of studies on waste to PHA is at laboratory scale. The questions of surmounting the technical and political hurdles to industrialization are generally left unanswered. There are a limited number of studies that have progressed into fermentors and a dearth of pilot-scale demonstration. A number of fermentation studies show that biomass and PHA productivity can be increased, and sometimes dramatically, in a fermentor. The relevant application-specific properties of the polymers from the wastes studied and the effect of altered-waste composition on polymer properties are generally not well reported and would greatly benefit the progress of the research as high productivity is of limited value without the context of requisite case-specific polymer properties. The proposed use of a waste residual is advantageous from a life cycle viewpoint as it removes the direct or indirect effect of PHA production on land usage and food production. However, the question, of how economic drivers will promote or hinder advancements to demonstration scale, when wastes generally become understood as resources for a biobased society, hangs today in the balance due to a lack of shared vision and the legacy of mistakes made with first generation bioproducts.

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