Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin have discovered a method to recycle PET using enzymes at low temperatures.
Using artificial intelligence, the scientists were able to generate novel mutations of the enzymes that led to the PET being recycled at a temperature below 50 degrees Celsius.
The enzyme was able to break down the plastic into smaller parts (depolymerisation) and then chemically put it back together again (repolymerisation). In some cases, this process took as little as 24 hours.
A total of 51 different post-consumer plastic containers, five different polyester fibres and plastics and water bottles were tested. The enzyme that came from the process is called FAST-PETase (functional, active, stable and tolerant).
UT Austin professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering Hal Alper said: “The possibilities are endless across industries to leverage this leading-edge recycling process.
“Beyond the obvious waste management industry, this also provides corporations from every sector the opportunity to take a lead in recycling their products. Through these more sustainable enzyme approaches, we can begin to envision a true circular plastics economy.”
French firm Carbios recently announced that it was building a commercial plant for its enzyme-based PET recycled technology.