Alan manufactures bioplastics from waste from pulp and paper mills
The world is flooded with plastic and scientists are warning of a future with more plastic than fish in the oceans. Now there is the technology to transform waste and wastewater into biodegradable bioplastics. Alan Werker is one of those who wants to help the industry with this.
Plastic is a major problem for the environment and several projects around the world are in the process of finding a solution. One of them is MultiBio; a collaborative project financed by Vinnova where waste and wastewater from pulp and paper mills in the Värmland region, Sweden, will be given new life as biodegradable products.
MultiBio is unique in that three independent processes are combined in one cascade and all energy is utilized. In addition to bioplastics, bio hydrogen and fish feed are also created. The goal is to open up companies that can get the new products on the market.
The entire value chain in MultiBio
Twenty players participate in Multibio; including Paper Province, three local paper mills, several companies and university researchers.
One of the participants is Alan Werker, a specialist in biological water treatment. He grew up in Canada, where his doctoral thesis focused on purification processes for forest industrial water.
“When purifying water, sludge is produced. The sludge contains interesting bacteria that can convert pollutants into polymers if fed properly”.
The polymer is called PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) and is an important building block that can be processed into degradable bioplastics.
The bioplastics concept is spread throughout the world
Alan Werker has for many years devoted himself to developing a working concept. In 2017, he and his colleague Simon Bengtsson started the company Promiko. They collaborate with specialists and academic groups and participate in projects around the world that support the bioplastics concept. For example, they are part of research groups in the Netherlands, Australia, Italy and the Horizon 2020 project Scalibur, which deals with bioplastics production and other renewable resources.
Future technology is being evaluated at the Värmland mills
In MultiBio, tests are performed at the Värmland mills.
“We make assessments of their biological purification process and discuss with the utility staff how to integrate the production of biopolymer into the existing purification process”.
For Alan, it is fascinating to delve into the depth of the bioprocesses and understand the properties of the polymers in the bioplastics.
“It is a great advantage to work in real industrial processes and gain insight into the challenges of the mill”.
85 million PET bottles from one use
So far, Multibio is about applying the ideas in the forest industry. To motivate development and prove that it works.
“In the future, we hope that the production of PHA will be economically attractive and that products will be developed. Each mill could produce between one thousand and three thousand tons of PHA per year. Raw material that could, for example, be used for environmentally friendly multilaminates, coating or composite materials in the paper industry”, says Alan Werker.
By comparison, 2,000 tonnes of PHA material equals approximately 85 million 1/2-liter PET bottles.
Bioplastics with many advantages
PHA plastic has many advantages over oil-based plastic. It is basically biodegradable and can therefore decompose in nature. Another benefit to the environment is that it stores coal. But Alan doesn’t think PHA plastic will solve the whole big plastic problem in the world, far from it. There are far too many uses of plastic for that.
He does not at all believe that it is possible to replace all plastic in the world. The material is good to much and can be retained, but should be used in a way that protects the environment.
“I never think the plastic will disappear completely. But we can replace it in many applications. It is unnecessary with products that are used for two seconds and then thrown into the garbage bag”.
What do you think about the future of your industry?
“I hope that more projects will be started where we help industry and municipalities to create opportunities by converting waste into renewable raw materials. It is a development that is favorable to society”.