THE beworm PROJECT
Since 1950, humans have produced about 9 billion tons of plastic. Instead of recycling or reusing it, we thought it would be a good idea to litter in the environment. Well, we all know where that's headed. But nature came up with its own solution: In the last years research has documented over 90 different organisms, microorganisms and biomolecules that are able to break down long-chain polymers.
beworm uses these bioagents to develop a biotic/biocatalytic recycling process, that decompose the oil-based material polyethylene, the world's commonly used plastics. We started our experiments with waxworms (who are still our spirit animals) but the real magic
is done by enzymes in their system. Those enzymes are the key to the solution! That's why we are searching for them by experimenting on three different levels, aiming to develop a scalable, efficient and ressource-saving process.
Organisms like waxworms have shown awesome skills in our experiments, living and breeding on
a plastics diet. They are a great starting point to understand the mechanisms of degradation!
Most likely, bacteria and fungi produce the PE-degrading enzymes that we are looking for. We managed to isolate some of them out of the waxworms gut. Currently we are analysing them,
to find out what they are really up to!
The most important part in the process is played by enzymes!
They act upon polyethylene as their substrate, and split it up.
Once the right ones are identified,
they can be optimised and produced
on an industrial scale.
BUT HOW DOES IT WORK?
is a polymer composed of long hydrocarbon chains
The outcome of
the process could
like fungi and bacteria
produce enzymes that can break up polymers like PE
The enzymes act on polyethylene as their substrate and degrade the material
GREAT! SO I CAN LITTER WHEREVER I WANT?
Organisms and microorganisms can only handle small amounts of PE-plastics under the conditions they have in the environment. We have to optimise all parameters
in order to make the process efficient.
Although evolution is genius and organisms can adapt to almost everything, it takes a long time to come up with creatures that can handle all the trash that we put out there. But this is a good starting point in understanding how to handle plastic: with respect!
These are light-weight, long-lasting, high-performance materials. So why would you throw them away without a second thought?
HOW BIG IS THE PROBLEM?
Well, very big. This is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, one out of five trash islands floating around our the oceans. And yes, that's it's real size.
OKAY, BUT COULD IT BE USED THEN?
in a bioreactor
The waste gets
could be used for
...or biofuels, oils
plastics can be
In a biocatalytic process that works in an industrial context and can be scaled up! The best thing about it?
It could be used in addition to the current methods (mechanical recycling) and close their gaps.
beworm starts its journey!
The team moves into the TUM Entrepreneurship Center and achieves a first Proof-of-Principle
beworm gets a second lab at the
Innovation and Technology Center FACIT and identifies some promising plastics-eaters.
In 2022 beworm
aims to raise
to hire full time
MSc. Industrial Design
BSc. Biology, MSc. Biology (Student)
& Dipl. Ing. Electrical Engineering and IT
The beworm-project is ambitious, as it enters unknown terrain. Only a few teams worldwide are working on biotic and biocatalytic recycling systems. But we think that it could really make a difference, because it:
Unlike other recycling systems, like mechanical or chemical recycling, biotic recycling doesn't consume a lot of resources. Microorganisms "work" consuming only the food they eat and don't need any additional source of power or heat. It might not be the fastest recycling system, but it could be the most efficient.
If you understand that something that we call trash can be food for another form of live, you might start seeing it from an other perspective.
Plastic is not the enemy, it's the way we handle it that causes so many problems! If we start seeing it as a source of value, things are
going to change.
PE is the world's most used plastic material, processed in many goods we use on a daily basis .
But only HDPE can be easily recyled. LDPE is hardly recycled. Providing a working recycling system for LDPE would be a
huge step ahead.
BECOME A BIONEER
To solve the plastic problem, we need a systemic change!
No matter if you are a scientist, industry expert or ecolover - we are always looking for strong partners in the fight for a cleaner planet. Reach out to us using firstname.lastname@example.org and become a bioneer now!