£5.8m Awarded to Portsmouth Scientists to Fund New Ways to Recycle Plastic Waste

Posted on Posted on 5 Jul 2019

Scientists at the University of Portsmouth have been awarded £5.8m funding from the Research England Expanding Excellence Fund through the Government's Industrial Strategy, after having engineered an enzyme that can break up plastics.

In April 2018, researchers led by Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth and Dr Gregg Beckham at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, announced they had engineered an enzyme which could digest polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, returning it to its original monomers, or building blocks.

Their discovery offered the first glimmer of hope that we can take an enzyme from the natural environment and adapt it in the laboratory to tackle some of our most polluting plastics.

PET plastic is commonly used to make the 20,000 single-use plastic bottles manufactured every second worldwide. The team’s discovery paved the way for a future in which PET could be infinitely recycled, re-used, and even made into higher value materials – a fundamental shift in recycling.

The scientists behind the discovery have been awarded £5.8 million funding through the Government’s Industrial Strategy to continue their mission to find a solution to the global challenge of plastic waste. The investment from the Research England Expanding Excellence Fund will allow the appointment of both junior and senior researcher scientists to join the expanding team at the University of Portsmouth’s newly established Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI). 

The centre will focus on finding enzymes capable of breaking down different types of plastic and then engineering these to be fast enough to be deployed at industrial recycling facilities. It has three teams, one focused on finding new enzymes in the environment which can break down different types of plastics; another to engineer these enzymes and systems to make them more efficient and robust; and a third to work with our industry partners to make these engineered enzymes suitable for large-scale production.

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Professor McGeehan was speaking at the UKCPN-sponsored House of Lords Reception on 25th June to further explain the work going on at the University of Portsmouth. You can read more about this here.

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