What’s Going On Here?

A paper published by the University of Portsmouth has revealed a new family of enzymes that can turn plant waste into useful widely-popular products such as nylon, plastic and chemicals.

What Does This Mean?

The work comes from the very same scientist who brought us the plastic eating enzymes back in 2018.

Examples of plant waste are: wood, forest residues (such as dead trees, branches and tree stumps), garden clippings, sugarcane, corn, wheat, eucalyptus, palm oil, rice and bamboo.
The newly engineered enzymes can break down a compound called Lignin which is found within these plants extracting useful materials.
Lignin is like the scaffolding within plants and is made up of many useful building blocks. Being able to break it down can save us from having to make these “building blocks” from oil based alternatives.
It is hoped that this piece of bioengineering will allow us to make better use of plants, including non-edible bits of food plants. Whooopa!

Why Should We Care?

This discovery could reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, especially oil, of which currently around 10% is used in the manufacturing of chemicals.
Furthermore, we could also save energy, water and time as farmed products such as those mentioned above (rice, sugar, corn etc) would have dual use!

Some companies are already turning plant and food waste into useful products in different ways. Agraloop turn pineapples into fibers, Aeropowder turn chicken feathers into insulation and Biobean repurpose used coffee grind into logs and biomass pellets.

Be Curious!

If you live in Portsmouth, why not drop into the University and give this lot a pat of the back. For the rest of us, take a look at this link for reducing food waste.
My favourites are:

  • Flaccid carrots: Not great in a salad or with hummus, but works wonders in a soup!
  • Potato skins: Scrub your potatoes before you peel and roast the peelings at 180oC for 5-10 mins to make lush crisps. (Or simply leave skip the peeling altogether) 
  • Broccoli stalks: Cut them into smaller chunks and cook them with the rest, or roast like you would a chip!
  • Cheese rind: We don’t condone cheese… but if you do have an old rind, from say Parmesan, then use it in soup or pasta sauces.

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