EU research project on algae-based polymers: SPLASH – Sustainable PoLymers from Algae Sugars and Hydrocarbons
Polymers like polyethylene (PE) are made from petroleum distillates. Due to the finite nature of petroleum reserves, it is important that industry and society become less dependent on them, developing alternate feedstocks for polymers that are renewable and less harmful to the climate and the environment. The production of biobased plastics is a potentially sustainable solution. Products like cups, bottles, cutlery, plates, bags, bedding, furnishings, carpets, film, textiles and packaging materials are already made from a variety of natural feedstocks including corn, potato, rice, tapioca, palm fiber, wood cellulose, wheat fiber and bagasse.
One disadvantage to the use of plant derived products is that this may lead to competition for land which is a limited resource: Both the food and feed industries as well as biomaterials and biofuels/bioenergy need land for their biomass supply. The sustainable production of polymers from algae sugars and hydrocarbons, however, may provide an alternative solution to this problem because algae farms can be installed on non-arable land.
Led by Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research, the four-year project has the goal of developing a new biobased industrial platform that uses microalgae as a raw material for the sustainable production and recovery of hydrocarbons and (exo)polysaccharides from algae, as well as their further conversion into renewable polymers. SPLASH will deliver the knowledge, tools and technology needed to establish a new industrial sector, i.e. industrial biotechnology based on algae and/or algal genes to produce polyesters and polyolefins.
The project comprises twenty partners, of which 55% are SMEs and large enterprises and the remaining 45% are universities and research institutes.