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Tel Aviv researchers develop biodegradable plastic from seawater algae

By
Renzo Pipoli
An Ivorian woman collects plastic bottles to sell for recycling from the general waste at the Akouedo recycling depot and landfill site in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in 2018. There is expected to be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050. Photo by Legnan Koula/EPA-EFE
An Ivorian woman collects plastic bottles to sell for recycling from the general waste at the Akouedo recycling depot and landfill site in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in 2018. There is expected to be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050. Photo by Legnan Koula/EPA-EFE

Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Researchers at the Tel Aviv University are working on a new biodegradable plastic made from microorganisms that feed on seawater algae.

"Our new process produces 'plastic' from marine microorganisms that completely recycle into organic waste," said Alexander Golberg, of Tel Aviv University's Porter School of Environmental and Earth Sciences.

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Factories already "produce this type of bioplastic in commercial quantities, but they use plants that require agricultural land and fresh water," he added.

"The process we propose will enable countries with a shortage of fresh water, such as Israel, China and India, to switch from petroleum-derived plastics to biodegradable plastics" made from algae microorganisms in seawater, he added.

"We are now conducting basic research to find the best bacteria and algae that would be most suitable for producing polymers for bioplastics with different properties," he said.

There are similar efforts underway in the United States. Not only is the potential of the biodegradable product promising for the environment, but using algae would also reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Last week the United States Department of Energy awarded a $2 million grant to UC San Diego biologists to develop cost-effective techniques to develop plastic polymers based on algae, according to a report by KSWB news in San Diego.

Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences that make up about 40 percent of the world's ocean surfaces, according to the Center for Biological Diversity environmental organization.

"At current rates plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050," it said.

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