Newly discovered enzyme breaks down PET in less than a day

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Scientists at Leipzig University in Germany have discovered a new enzyme that is capable of breaking down PET in less than 24 hours.

The enzyme, PHL7, which was discovered in a compost heap, and is faster than the LCC enzyme found in Japan in 2012. Indeed, PHL7 has been found to be twice as fast as the previous fastest LCC enzyme.

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Leipzig University researcher Christian Sonnendecker said: “Our enzyme is twice as active as the gold standard among polyester-cleaving hydrolyses.

“For example, PHL7 broke down a plastic punnet – the kind used for selling grapes in supermarkets – in less than 24 hours.”

Using enzymes to recycle PET is less energy-intensive than traditional recycling methods and can be used for closed loop applications.

Over the next two to three years, the researchers hope to develop a prototype to quantify the economic benefits of this rapid biological process.

They are also working on a pre-treatment method that would help to break down plastic bottles made from PET that have higher crystallinity.

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