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.
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.