Created: November 09, 2020 06:27 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — We’ve all seen images of plastic bottles piling up where they shouldn’t be. Now, Los Alamos National Laboratory is trying to be part of the solution.
"Nobody wants to stop using plastics. They're lightweight and they're easy to use. There is a reason why these types of polymers are in everything we use, but we have to find a way to do this better,” said Taraka Dale, LANL lead for the BOTTLE program.
LANL has teamed up with four other national labs and four academic institutions to tackle the plastic pollution problem. It’s dubbed the "BOTTLE" consortium, which stands for Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment.
LANL is bringing in their Smart Microbial Cell Technology to help out with this. This technology quickly helps find new biocatalysts that break these products down.
"Biocatalysts are really either small molecules or an organism’s cell that can turn one thing into another thing. In this case, we are interested in finding proteins, which are small molecules, or biological molecules, that can degrade or eat plastic and turn them into tinier molecules,” Dale said.
The current technology in this research can only study tens of proteins at a time, but LANL’s can handle much more.
"Our technology is set up to study thousands of proteins at a time, so we have a real opportunity to accelerate what this research is able to get done in a short period of time,” she said.
The way plastics are treated now is very linear. They're made from their starting materials, we use them, then they’re thrown into the garbage or recycled. The end goal of the BOTTLE program is to change that cycle.
"What we're trying to do is make a circular plastics economy where we have control over the entire process—from building the new polymer to turning it into a product, to degrade that product and getting to turn it into something new again," she said.
Dale also noted that this isn't a problem that can be solved in a year, but she thinks that a lot of progress can be made.
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