Leveraging Enzyme Excretion Systems for the Cell-Free Synthesis of Lactic Acid; Optimizing the Environmental Impact of Bioplastics: Balancing Advantages and Challenges

Marino, Collin, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Anderson, Eric, EN-Chem Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Bioplastics have the potential to significantly help the environment and provide a much more sustainable alternative to petroleum-based plastics. However, to fully realize this potential, a two-sided approach must be taken. First, better technologies need to be developed to increase the economic viability of bioplastic production, and second the connections between consumers, bioplastic utilizing corporations, and regulatory bodies must be understood and leveraged. In order to work toward this goal, a new method for the production of lactic acid (the monomer of the bioplastic polylactic acid) has been developed. This new method combines enzyme excretion systems with cell-free synthesis, to broaden the field of cell-free biosynthesis. To explore the wide-spread implications of this technology, a chemical plant based on this technology was developed and the economics of the process were analyzed. The results showed this method is unfortunately not an economically viable means for lactic acid production, however in doing so it highlighted the key design considerations which will be crucial as the field of cell-free synthesis continues to develop in the upcoming decades. Additionally, the STS research in this portfolio is concerned with the societal implications of bioplastics and the ways in which bioplastic technology can be leveraged to have a maximally positive environmental impact. The most significant findings from the STS research highlight the importance of compostable bioplastics, while the results from the technical portion of this portfolio show that choosing the correct bioplastic monomer synthesis pathway is crucial to the success of a cell-free production plant. In this way, the groundwork has been laid out for future researchers to develop similar production plants for compostable bioplastics, unlike PLA, which leverage more applicable synthesis pathways. In this way, more informed decisions can be made in choosing a bioplastic monomer so that large scale production can be made economically viable, while also ensuring widespread use is environmentally beneficial.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Bioplastics, Lactic Acid, Cell Free Synthesis, Biosynthesis

School of Engineering and Applied Science

Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering

Technical Advisor: Eric Anderson

STS Advisor: Bryn Seabrook

Technical Team Members: Clare Cocker, Ethan Coleman, Gavin Estrella

Issued Date: