At least, according to Professor Pavel Alexy of the STU Faculty of Chemical and Food Technology in Bratislava.
Used frying oil is a hazardous waste, available in large quantities around the world. If it can be used to make polyhydroxybutyrate instead of having to be treated as waste, the environment benefits.
Polyhydroxybutyrate, he explained, is a bio-plastic material which degrades in industrial compost conditions at the temperatures of 50 or more, as well as in domestic compost conditions at 20-30 ?. Its degradation in common soil and in sea water is currently being investigated. Professor Alexy is currently collaborating intensively with the scientists of the Technical University of Brno and a commercial company, developing the technology for processing waste oils to second-generation polyhydroxybutyrate.
It is not his first foray into the world of bioplastics. Earlier, in close cooperation with the Slovak Academy of Sciences, he developed what he called ‘first-generation’ bioplastics, consisting of two components: polylactic acid made of starch, and polyhydroxybutyrate, a biomaterial produced by bacteria. The bacteria subsist on sugar, derived from sugarcane, or whey, a dairy byproduct. Such bioplastics are protected as a utility model in the Slovak Republic; a patent application has been filed and the patent has raised interest in Europe and several Asian countries. The material bears the brand “nonoilen”, which means “not made of oil”.
A new patent application for second-generation bioplastics - based on waste oils - has been submitted to the Patent Office.
The STU team is collaborating with a number of companies and universities on the practical application of the material. Among the commercial uses under consideration are plastic containers, cutlery, packaging foils and mulch foils.
And together with a design agency called the crafting plastics! studio, the STU chemical engineers have come up with an idea of using bioplastics for sunglasses frames; their design won the 2017 National Design Award in the category of Value-added Design. It was also nominated for the German Design Award and currently is exhibited at the Venice Biennale of Design and Architecture. The young designers managed to get support for the project through the Kickstarter.com. crowdfunding portal.
Medical applications also present new opportunities. The STU is currently collaborating with specialists at the Comenius University Faculty of Medicine in Bratislava and the top experts in implants development at the Technical University in Košice. Bioplastics may serve as temporary implants supporting complicated fractures. Research is also being carried out in the field of tissue engineering; in the laboratories, complete substitute organs are grown on a bio-substrate that will gradually decompose.