EU project ANIMPOL at the Graz University of Technology: bio-polymers made of animal waste 

Is there a sustainable way out of the “plastic age”, and which concrete scenarios are conceivable? Since the spectacular documentation “Plastic Planet”, at the latest, a lot of people are asking themselves this question. Scientists of the Graz University of Applied Sciences (TU Graz) research together with European partners in the EU project “ANIMPOL” on completely new processes for the manufacture of bio-degradable polymers and bio-fuels on the basis of slaughterhouse wastes. In a project, which has already been completed successfully, coordinated by the same research group at TU Graz (WHEYPOL), the waste substance whey lactose was used as a raw material for bio-polymer manufacture.

“Which raw materials are available for the production of bio-polymers, without being in competition with food production?”. This problem was the starting point of the EU project ANIMPOL. Fossil fuels, too, should likewise not be used. In the project worth three million Euros, eleven European institutions have been cooperating under the management of TU Graz since January 2010.

Polymers from the slaughterhouse

The team around Project Manager Martin Koller of the Institute for Biotechnology and Bio-Process Engineering of TU Graz came across piles of wastes of the European slaughtering industry. Each year, around half a million tons of lipids, i.e. fats, are produced by the slaughterhouses and carcass processing facilities Europe-wide, the majority of which is combusted. Within the scope of ANIMPOL, the researchers determined that from one ton of these lipids, 0.7 tons of bio-polymer can be produced. Contrary to that, raw plant materials, like carbohydrates from sugar or glucose, only result in about half a ton. In both cases, using bacteria, the starting material for the bio-polymers is produced, from which the “green” polymer then results. “The higher yield with the production from fat is based on the fact that the microbes used process lipids more efficiently into the end product than carbohydrates”, explains Martin Koller. In general, the advantage of bio-polymers lies in the fact that they are biodegradable and compatible with other biological substances. This makes them particularly suited for medical uses, either in the form of implants or suture material. Besides the processing into sustainable polymers, the ANIMPOL research team also investigates, whether it is possible to manufacture more efficient bio-fuels from animal wastes. Until the end of 2012, those involved will continue researching on the generation of biological fuels and polymers from animal wastes. Thereafter, a pilot plant is to be erected in order to test the newly developed processes in practice. The slaughterhouse wastes for that are provided by the Styrian company Reistenhofer.

Hidden potential: waste from cheese generation

Searching for alternative raw materials for the generation of polymers, the researchers in the already successfully completed WHEYPOL project came across a further promising waste product beside animal wastes: when cheese is produced, whey results as a residual liquid, wherein one litre of milk yields almost one litre of whey. For further utilisation, this means 40 to 50 grams of lactose as a starting material for the manufacture of bio-polymers per litre of milk processed. The researchers would have considered a pilot plant for the production of bio-polymers, for example, in Upper Italy, where each day, one million litres of whey are disposed of as waste into the sea, Martin Koller clarifies. So far, however, erection failed due to lacking political will.

Dr. Martin Koller
Institute for Biotechnology and Bio-Process Engineering of TU Graz
+43 (0)316 873 8409

Source of information: / 31.01.2012
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