Bluepha, a China-based cutting-edge biotech company, launched its first portfolio of marine degradable biopolymers, Bluepha™ PHA, on March 1st, 2023.
At this event, Bluepha founders and two of their colleagues introduced the product properties, applications, production processes, biorefinery construction, and the revolutionary technology 'Biohybrid'. Mr. Jan Ravenstijn, co-founder and Advisory Board Member of the Global PHA Organization (GO!PHA), and Prof. Weng Yunxuan, the secretary-general of the Degradable Plastics Committee of China Plastics Processing Industry Association, also sent congratulatory messages to this event.
Over the past five years, Bluepha has always been working on sustainable solutions for human lives. The following text offers an overview of this event.
Natural PHA, a gift from Nature
Plastic pollution has received increasing attention worldwide, but it is not easy to solve at its root. Although most people have realized how severe the problem is, few can offer concrete and workable solutions. Consequently, humans are trapped in a?paradox of plastics?, where everyone is both a participant and a victim. In the past 5 years, Bluepha has continued exploring the true solutions. They think out of the box, keep going deep, and finally find the answer. The answer is not to invent a new material, but to leverage the gift from nature and bring it to everyday lives.
PHA is a natural polymer found in the cells of a wide range of microorganisms, where it serves as a storage of carbon and energy. This polymer has existed on Earth for billions of years as a part of nature. What Bluepha did was to develop an industrial process for its mass production, which is named Bluepha™ commercially, or ??™ in Chinese.
Unlike the other five groups of natural polymers, paper&wood, natural rubber, cotton&linen, leather, silk, Bluepha™ is produced by microorganisms rather than plants or animals, using biomass as fermentation feedstocks. The material can degrade in almost all typical environments without leaving a trace.
The sixth category of natural materials
Therefore, Bluepha™ is 'a fabulous blend with nature'. They are like shepherd from nature to human lives, bringing a whole new world with countless possibilities sustainably, and finally realizing 'a phabulous blend with nature'.
They believe that Bluepha™ PHA has the potential to make a difference in the future as a new group of natural materials.
Bluepha™, a sustainable choice
Bluepha™ has mechanical properties similar to petrochemical plastics. It offers excellent performance in terms of toughness, heat resistance, and barrier properties. Therefore, it can be used to manufacture green packaging, cosmetics, fabrics, and other advanced products.
Radar Charts and Applications
Currently, Bluepha have developed 2 grades for commercial use. One is BP350, a flexible grade with a high comonomer content, and the other is BP330, a rigid grade with a low comonomer content. For the convenience of customer use, Bluepha can deliver resins in powder and pellet form. In addition, the direct application of BP330 and BP350, as well as blends in different proportions, can be adapted for different products.
The biggest difference from other degradable materials is that Bluepha™ can be degraded in all typical artificial and natural environments. In 2022, both BP330 and BP350 completed degradation experiments in different environments, including home composting and marine degradation, which are the most difficult for degradable materials to pass. The test results from the Belgium-based leading testing institution OWS show that:
In the home composting test, Bluepha™ film samples of both grades were completely degraded in only 10 weeks.
In the marine degradation tests, it took only 16 weeks for both grades to reach a biodegradation percentage of nearly 90%, which is very close to cellulose.
Bluepha™ is not only biodegradable but also biobased, which can be produced from various renewable biomass. Currently, Bluepha™ is made out of sustainably sourced plant oil, and both grades were certified to have 100% biobased carbon content by TÜV Austria, a third-party authority.
Biobased raw materials
Green factory, ensuring a reliable supply
In 2022, they completed the construction of the first industrial-scale facility, BioFAB1, in Yancheng for Bluepha™ production. Bluepha overcame huge challenges and uncertainties, realizing production in the same year. The first phase, BioFAB1, has the capacity to produce 5,000 tonnes of Bluepha™ resins every year, which lays a solid foundation for the stable supply of PHA.
Based on their own technology developed in-house, the entire facility and each step of the production process have been carefully designed and verified. The overall layout of the facility is U-shaped, which shortens the distance between each production unit and improves operational efficiency. In different workshops, they introduced advanced technologies and approaches, such as magnetic levitation, and the reuse of recycled water, to minimize the energy and resources consumed. All of these advanced features make BioFAB1 a 'green factory'.
Designing a good production line is just the first step, achieving a "stable supply" also requires a modern operation management system. The core operation members of BioFAB1 have worked in Chinese, European, American, and Japanese biomanufacturers for years, which brings extensive management experience.
Bluepha strive for excellence in every dimension, from personnel, equipment, and raw materials, to operation procedures, environmental safety, and testing. Rigorous scientific process control protocols and standard operating procedures have been written and implemented. BioFAB1 operates following process control principles, with quality management in accordance with ISO9001. All of these lead to a stable production process through strict control of parameter range and intermediate testing, which enables them to deliver a stable product to customers reliably.
The construction of BioFAB2 is also on the agenda. Once it's finished, the new super facility can produce 25,000 tonnes of Bluepha™ resins per year in total.
Fundamental research, offering a complete solution
This event also shared three key advances in the basic research of PHA.
In order to improve the processability, the rheological curves of different grades of Bluepha™ have been studied, and they have developed an understanding of the typical characteristics of their corresponding systems. In the future, Bluepha will be able to guide customers to adjust the temperature and shear rate, improving the processing efficiency by 50%.
Bluepha has a special melt memory effect which enables them to make a balance between the temperature and crystallization rate. This allows engineers to speed up crystallization by 2 orders of magnitude, making the material 30% tougher and 50% more transparent.
The special melt memory effect of blue crystal
The mechanical properties that customers care about are related to the aggregate state, and Bluepha™ shows differences in crystalline structure at different temperatures. Large crystals can provide strength, while small ones can provide toughness. Due to this property, the size and distribution of crystals can be controlled so that the strength and toughness can both be increased by 20%, respectively.
Crystal structure under polarizing microscope
To satisfy different requirements from customers, Bluepha will not only deliver raw materials but a complete solution. It includes not only customized grades for specific applications, but also mature processing guidelines that have been verified in mass production, as well as experts with rich practical experience to provide technical support.
Bluepha will continuously focus on helping customers shorten the development cycle and efficiently deliver high-performance products.
Biohybrid, the future of bio-manufacturing
As the Easter egg of the event, Bluepha also unveiled the revolutionary 'Biohybrid' technology.
According to environmental benefits and technical difficulties, all the carbon sources for biomanufacturing can be divided into three generations. The first generation is traditional biomass, such as starch and plant oil. The second generation is non-food biomass, such as used cooking oil and agricultural straws. The third generation is greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and industrial waste gas. The production process using the third generation carbon sources will bring the greatest environmental benefit. It can directly transform carbon dioxide into feedstock, making a great contribution to carbon neutrality. However, in terms of technology and engineering, it is extremely hard to use them in this state of the art effectively.
Bluepha chooses the third generation, which is the right way but is not easy. Using this technology, carbon dioxide from the air and plant oil can be directly used as mixed feedstocks to synthesize Bluepha™. The combination of biomass and pßßß`` is why this technology is called 'Biohybrid'.
To date, Bluepha has completed the pilot test of Bluepha™ production based on Biohybrid technology. In the next 24 months, they will be able to deliver Biohybrid-based Bluepha™ resins in large quantities. Bluepha will keep working on Biohybrid in order to progressively increase the proportion of carbon atoms in Bluepha™ derived from greenhouse gases. Their aim is to increase the proportion from 10% to 20% by 2027, and the ultimate goal is to reach 100%.
More importantly, as a fundamental technology, Biohybrid can be applied to almost any bio-manufacturing process. Therefore, in the future, it can be used to manufacture various chemicals and materials that customers need.
Bluepha is always open-minded and willing to work together with everyone for a phabulous blend with nature!
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