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Bacteria to eat waste and provide materials for medical devices

Professional Engineering

The labs at the University of Nottingham (Credit: University of Nottingham)
The labs at the University of Nottingham (Credit: University of Nottingham)

A portable facility that uses bacteria to convert waste into useful materials for medical devices has received €1.5m funding as part of an international competition.

The collaborative innovation project involving the University of Nottingham received the funding from the Sprind challenge, a competition hosted by the Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation in Germany. More than 50 groups applied from across the globe, with eight selected for the first stage to develop novel bioprocessing techniques that could contribute to a circular economy. 

Materi-8, as the project is known, will use bacteria to eat waste and convert it into acrylic molecules. Those could then be mixed with other monomers to create polymers, which could be used in additive manufacturing to create medical devices. The team plans to build a ‘containerised’ system that could be used around the world, including in countries that receive waste from elsewhere.

During the first stage, the group will focus on bacterial conversion of material mixtures from different types of textiles, greenhouse cultivation by-products such as contaminated paprika stems, and microplastics, aiming to identify the optimum process. 

“Securing funding as part of the Sprind challenge is an incredibly exciting step for this project, as it’s giving us the opportunity to turn our research into reality and make a real difference to countries that are swamped with waste but don’t have the facilities to deal with it,” said Nottingham assistant professor Sam Bryan.

“This next 12 months are going to be vital as we focus on proving the process can work. From there we’d look to progress to the next stage of the competition where we’d receive more funding to develop a continuous biomanufacturing system that will be able to make products via additive manufacturing printing techniques.

“We’ve got a great team that’s committed to turning waste into something useful rather than leaving it to pollute the planet, so to have been recognised and selected for that is something we’re incredibly proud of.”

The team also includes Professor Derek Irvine, Dr Anca Pordea and Dr Luisa Ciano from Nottingham, Dr Patricia Parlevliet from Green Pearl Innovation, and Professor Wolfgang Streit from Hamburg University. 

“My goal is to bring science that can accelerate the transition to a circular (bio)economy to market,” said Dr Parlevliet. “I am thrilled that I can help Sam and the team translate their research into innovative products that help mitigate further pollution of our environment by turning mixed-material waste streams into single chemicals for personalised healthcare products.” 

Professor Streit said: “This is a great success, and [an] important step towards developing a truly sustainable recycling process for plastics.”

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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