From August 22 to August 26 2022, the coordinator entity, the University of Aalborg (AAU) organised the first international summer school about biorefinery and upcycling.
The main core of this event was revolving around the biotechnological recycling of plastic waste, with a general overview of the whole value chain provided as well. Moreover, the Summer school represented a networking opportunity for the European H2020 BIOTECH 09 Cluster, to gather and exchange experiences among early-career researchers of the three EU projects, dedicated to the plastic upcycling topic: UPLIFT, Up-PET and PRESERVE.
On the first day, AAU started with an introduction to the current plastic problems and how plastic biorefinery can contribute to solving such problems. The series of lectures on eco-design of new sustainable polymers, bioproduction of monomers as bio-based building blocks of plastics, and research on plastic bioupcycling technology. They also learn about using omics technology for new plastic-degrading enzymes/microorganisms discovery.
On the second day, attendees looked into protein engineering and modelling (focused on plastic-degrading enzymes), including the workshop from Mohamed for practising the use of the in-silico protein modelling program. They also had a workshop on life-cycle-assessment (LCA) analysis today, learning that establishing any new plastic production or recycling process needs an assessment of resource depletion and environmental impact as well as practised using SimoPro program and database to perform LCA.
On the following day, the group look into more about the eco-toxicity of plastic degradation, and how it affects wildlife in real ecology if uncontrolled end-of-life management is continued. Then, they were introduced to analytical methods useful for plastic-degradation analysis. Finally, they have the excursion to visit the wind-turbine test center in Thy (west coast of Denmark).
On Thursday, Lars Regestein, from Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology – Hans Knöll Institute talked about the consolidated bioprocess and upscaling (challenges and how to control the process). Alessandro Pellis, from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU) also gave an informative talk on bio-based platform chemicals to produce building block of plastics and also new polymers from a bio-based chemical that has better properties and are possible to replace current fossil-based plastic.
On the final day, the group used all the information received during the whole week and came up with the idea of a plastic biorefinery, presented it to BIOTECH09 project coordinators and get their feedback.
“I think an important thing that happened in this summer school is that all the PhD in plastic research get to know each other more (in a casual way), so we exchanged about what are we working on and can we collaborate to make new research impact (also life as a PhD)” stated Passanun Lomwongsopon, PhD at the University of Aalborg.