German researchers write in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology that they’ve identified and characterized a line of bacteria capable of degrading a few of the chemical building blocks of polyurethane.
“The microorganism can use these compounds as a sole source of carbon, nitrogen and vitality,” stated Dr. Hermann J. Heipieper, a senior scientist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ in Leipzig, Germany and co-lead of the new paper. “This finding represents a vital move in being able to reuse exhausting-to-recycle PU products.”
In 2015, polyurethane products alone accounted for 3.5 million tons of plastics developed in Europe. Polyurethane is utilized in everything from refrigerators and buildings to footwear and furniture to various other applications that may leverage its lightweight, insulating and flexible properties.
Unfortunately, polyurethane is tough and energy-intensive to recycle or destroy as most of those kinds of plastics are thermosetting polymers that don’t melt when heated. The waste mostly results in landfills where it releases several poisonous chemical compounds, some of that are carcinogenic.
The use of microorganisms like bacteria and fungi to interrupt down oil-based plastics is an ongoing area of analysis. However, few studies have addressed the biodegradation of polyurethanes like the recent paper.