Microbial Recycling of Bioplastics via Mixed-Culture Fermentation of Hydrolyzed Polyhydroxyalkanoates into Carboxylates
Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) polymers are emerging within biobased biodegradable plastic products. To build a circular economy, effective recycling routes should be established for these and other end-of-life bioplastics. This study presents the first steps of a potential PHA recycling route by fermenting hydrolyzed PHA-based bioplastics (Tianan ENMATTM Y1000P; PHBV (poly(3-hydroxybutyrate-co-3-hydroxyvalerate)) into carboxylates acetate and butyrate. First, three different hydrolysis pretreatment methods under acid, base, and neutral pH conditions were tested. The highest 10% (from 158.8 g COD/L to 16.3 g COD/L) of hydrolysate yield was obtained with the alkaline pretreatment. After filtration to remove the remaining solid materials, 4 g COD/L of the hydrolyzed PHA was used as the substrate with the addition of microbial nutrients for mixed culture fermentation. Due to microbial conversion, 1.71 g/L acetate and 1.20 g/L butyrate were produced. An apparent complete bioconversion from intermediates such as 3-hydroxybutyrate (3-HB) and/or crotonate into carboxylates was found. The overall yields of the combined processes were calculated as 0.07 g acetate/g PHA and 0.049 g butyrate/g PHA. These produced carboxylates can theoretically be used to reproduce PHA or serve many other applications as part of the so-called carboxylate platform.