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April 05, 2009

Bacteria Tortured, Plastics the result!

Click to see the molecular structure of PHB Warning! The descriptive imagery of this post may be disturbing to anti-torture greenpeace type activists.

This is not a new story, but it is getting recent press as researchers continue to look for ways to commercialize this thermoplastic polyester produced by bacterial fermentation, PHB, aka Poly-3-hydroxy-butyrate. Another alias is simply polyhydroxybutyrate, but its friends know it as PHB.

The torture? Ah, well wiki explains that this plastic is made "in response to conditions of physiological stress." Aha! See? Torture!  Who cares about the poor bacteria being stressed to produce plastics for greedy capitalist?  Where are the protesters? Bacteria is organic! It's alive! I'm sure it has feelings!

Treadmills3 It seems that bacteria, much like most of us, stores extra energy as fat, bacterial fat. Who knew? And this process makes the bacteria work so hard that they sweat off the fat which solidifies into PHB. I have visions of billions of tiny bacteria strapped to tiny nano treadmills working for the man!

From FirstScience.com:

To make PHB on a big scale you just fatten up bacteria with glucose in giant fermenters and effectively 'brew' the plastic.

One of the more interesting points is in its biodegradability. The reason it is biodegradable? The bacteria wants its fat BACK! Bacteria will eat this plastic to return it to its original form of bacterial fat. Until the man sweats it off them again.

This IS a fascinating plastic though, and one most environmentalist will love.

  • Made from bacteria
  • Limitless supply of cheap bacteria slaves
  • Truly biodegradable (not just smaller pieces)
  • Similar in strength to polypropylene
  • Transparency
  • No nasty toxic residues
  • Currently expensive to make (bacteria must be unionized)
  • Worked on by ICI, Monsanto and Metabolix
  • Biodegradable and medical applications
  • PHB is a type of polyester
  • Ocean breakdown in months
  • Sewage breakdown in weeks


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