Pioneering plastic-eating enzyme innovation centre aiming to tackle global warming to open in Portsmouth

IN A bid to tackle plastic pollution, a new enzyme innovation centre will open in Portsmouth.

Thursday, 26th May 2022, 9:20 am
Updated Thursday, 26th May 2022, 9:37 am

The University of Portsmouth’s Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI) will officially open its Industrial Engagement Hub (IEH) tomorrow.

A naturally recurring enzyme that was able break down a thermo-plastic commonly used in single-use drinks bottles, clothing and carpets has been re-engineered – allowing it to be used on an industrial scale.

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Professor John McGeehan led research which re-engineered a naturally occurring enzyme that was able to digest polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a common thermoplastic.

Centre director, Professor John McGeehan, who launched the initial research in 2019, said: ‘These new facilities will help us to bridge the gap between our current fundamental research, and the creation of practical and scalable enzyme-enabled technologies for recycling and upcycling plastic waste.

‘These facilities allow us to break, make, break and remake plastics over and over again so that we can develop true industrial recycling processes and partnerships.

‘We are already working in collaboration with industry and some of the world’s biggest companies to recycle and reuse those materials that are currently often incinerated, sent to landfill and leak into the environment.’

The PETase enzyme digests polyethylene terephthalate (PET), breaking it down into its building blocks.

At the centre, this allows for the opportunity for plastic to be recycled infinitely.

This can be used to reduce pollution from the material, and associated green house gases.

An investment of £1.7m from the Government’s Getting Building Fund, through Solent Local Enterprise Partnership and the University of Portsmouth, made the IEH possible.

New state-of-the-art Polymer Analysis, Polymer Synthesis and Bio-recycling laboratories will be provided, as well as an Innovation Space and expanded Postgraduate Suite.

Paula Swain, Business Director at the Solent LEP said she was delighted the project would create jobs which will lead research into decarbonisation.

She added: ‘The Solent LEP's investment in these new facilities will help bring business and research together to tackle one of the key issues of our time.’

Rory Miles, Innovation Fellow for the CEI, said the IEH will enable scientists to use the enzymes in commercial processes, which can be scaled up to combat the plastic problem.

He said: ‘The plastic pollution crisis is one of the most urgent challenges of our time and our vision is to develop solutions which can ultimately stem the flow of plastics into the natural environment.’