In recognition of their ground-breaking work, the university has been awarded £5.8m to continue its research into strategies to recycle plastic waste.
Research led by Professor John McGeehan has engineered an enzyme which can digest polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic - used to make 20,000 single-use plastic bottles manufactured every second worldwide. It’s hoped the discovery could pave the way for a more efficient method of recycling.
Professor McGeehan said: ‘This is a global challenge and it’s incredibly exciting that Portsmouth is trailblazing research and innovation in this key area. It’s of the utmost importance that the government has recognised the need to fund research and innovation in this area and I’m delighted that Research England has awarded resources to take our fundamental science through to real-world industrial applications. With a £5.8m investment in our Centre for Enzyme Innovation, we are now in a position to develop innovative recycling solutions for our most commonly polluting plastics.’
Funding will focus on scaling up both the speed and volume at which enzymes can break down plastics into their original components which can then be infinitely recylced or made into higher quality plastic products. Plastic bottles would be collected and taken to recycling plants where the enzymes would be put to work.
Universities and science minister, Chris Skidmore, said: ‘Pushing the boundaries of knowledge and conquering new innovations are what our universities are known for. This programme led by the University of Portsmouth will look at how enzymes can break down single-use plastics and help cut plastics pollution.’
The University of Portsmouth’s vice-Chancellor, Professor Graham Galbraith, said: ‘Government funding, together with our own, is helping establish and build a world-leading research centre directly tasked with tackling the problem of plastic pollution. We are proud of what Portsmouth researchers have achieved in engineering an enzyme which can digest one of the most pernicious pollutants of our age and we are excited about where work done at our new Centre for Enzyme Innovation will allow us to go.’