Graz University develops “natural” plastic material

22. Mai 2012

 

The prerequisite for the manufacture of cost-effective plastic materials was provided by research at theInstitute of Chemistry of Graz University. Associate Professor Dr. Wolfgang Kroutil and his team have found out, how natural enzymes can be used to produce plastic material components for polyamides. The enzymes, natural proteins, are the biocatalysts, which accelerate chemical reactions […]


 

The prerequisite for the manufacture of cost-effective plastic materials was provided by research at theInstitute of Chemistry of Graz University. Associate Professor Dr. Wolfgang Kroutil and his team have found out, how natural enzymes can be used to produce plastic material components for polyamides. The enzymes, natural proteins, are the biocatalysts, which accelerate chemical reactions and thus “work” highly efficiently. The discovery was patented together with an industrial partner and is aiming at providing high-performance plastic materials for the manufacture of snowboards, sailboats or blades of wind power plants.

Take three enzymes – one alcohol dehydrogenase, one transaminase and one alanine dehydrogenase – put them into a pot with aqueous solution, add a little salt, shake the mixture – and the result is a polymer component, an amine, for the production of a special plastic material with great characteristics: highly resilient and elastic. Sounds like science fiction, but is the result of intensive research of the working group around Wolfgang Kroutil at the Institute of Chemistry of Graz University.

The idea originates from nature itself. “Each living cell represents a highly efficient machinery, which takes up nutrients, processes them and produces new substances. In that, using most different biocatalysts in individual successive steps, the materials are converted into a new substance via a so-called environmental cascade”, Kroutil explains the principle.

The Graz scientists experimented with this basic recipe. In their “pot”, they used three biocatalysts to perform an environmental cascade. “The three enzymes work together like the gears in a clockwork mechanism. The waste of one enzyme is used by another as an important excipient. This makes the process highly efficient, cost- and time-saving”, Kroutil emphasises. Furthermore, the technology is also environmentally friendly in manufacture. The areas of application of the bio-catalysis extend from the chemical industry via the feedstuff, paper and textiles industries up to the production of pharmaceuticals.

Trendsetting research results from the area of bio-catalysis form the centre of an international conference, which was opened at Graz University on 10 April 2012. Vice-Rector Peter Riedler welcomed the more than 160 participants from five continents at Karl Franzens University.

Over the past years, bio-catalysis has increasingly gained significance as “green chemistry”. In that, enzymes existing in nature are used to accelerate chemical reactions as biocatalysts. The technology is efficient and at the same time environmentally compatible.



Organiser of the conference, which until 13 April 2012 will be dealing with trendsetting research results from the area of bio-catalysis in Graz, is Associate Professor Dr. Wolfgang Kroutil. The chemist of Karl Franzens University himself has together with his team made several groundbreaking discoveries already, for example, how enzymes from nature can be used to produce plastic materials components for polyamides.

The conference“Multistep Enzyme-Catalysed Processes 2012 (MECP12)” is taking place in cooperation with Graz University of Technology and ACIB (Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology). On the agenda are 24 lectures by 11 invited speakers as well as 68 poster presentations.

Source of information: Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz / News 3.4.2012

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