Jul 7, 2016 | By Tess

As additive manufacturing technologies continue to advance, especially at the desktop level, the creation of sustainable, eco-friendly materials is becoming increasingly important. While many companies and startups have made positive strides in this area by offering recycled plastic filaments and bioplastics, there is still work to be done in making materials and their production processes as ecological as possible. Fortunately, French green chemistry company Carbios has made a breakthrough in this area in the development of a sustainable one-step PLA production process.

Carbios, which has dedicated itself to the development of plastic waste recovery processes and technologies, recently announced it has made a breakthrough in its vivo enzymatic polymerisation process of turning lactic acid into a “high-molecular weight homopolymer of PLA”. The process could offer a more competitive, and cheaper method for creating PLAs.

Most makers will have worked with PLA filaments, as the material is one of the most readily available bio-sourced polymers for 3D printing. Currently, however, the production processes for PLA include an expensive, and extensive middle step: the condensation of lactic acid into a lactid. This intermediary step also requires the material to undergo additional purification and chemical polymerization in order to create PLA.

With the innovative process being developed by Carbios, this middle step is essentially cut out of the PLA production through the use of a microoganism, making the process simpler, faster, and altogether more ecological. Alain Marty, the Chief Scientific Officer at Carbios, explains, “My partners and I are proud to have successfully met this scientific challenge and to have developed the first microorganism capable of producing a 100% PLA polymer of high-molecular weight.”

The breakthrough, which consisted of developing a new metabolic pathway which could be applied to microorganisms for the synthesization of PLA, will allow Carbios to forge ahead with its innovative PLA production process. It could also open the doors for Carbios in terms of making agreements within the industrial sector. Notably, the innovative technologies used in the production of Carbios’ PLA could also have applications in the production of other biopolymers such as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), which have an estimated growth potential of 28% by the year 2018.

The development of the microorganism capable of producing PLA directly was done in collaboration with research teams from the Toulouse, France-based branch of the INRA and the INSA. The research is being conducted as part of Carbios’ Thanaplast development program.

Jean-Claude Lumaret, CEO of Carbios, concluded, “Since the launch of the Thanaplast project, we have announced our will to develop, by biological means, a bioprocess for the production of PLA so to increase competitiveness of one of the most promising bio-sourced polymers on the market. Today, it has become a reality that will enable us to work with large industrials so to establish our technology in a quickly growing market. This innovation, a result of our collaborative model, is perfectly in line with the recent direction outlined by the French “Energetic Transition Law” for green growth and the emergence of bio-sourced products.”



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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