Cooking Oil Gives Plastic Sizzle

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Cooking oil could become the raw material for plastic, giving those forks used to spear greasy french fries their own new sizzle.

A team from the University of Warwick found a way to make biodegradable plastics from used cooking oil. The process they developed cuts the cost of producing bio-plastics which could make them more competitive with plastics made from fossil fuels. Cooking oil based plastics also don’t complete with food production as do corn based bioplastics.

“The use of biodegradable plastics such as PHB (Polyhydroxybutyrate) is encouraged to help reduce environmental contamination,” said lead researcher Iza Radecka in a press release. “Unfortunately the cost of glucose as a starting material has seriously hampered the commercialization of bio-plastics “Using waste cooking oil is a double benefit for the environment as it enables the production of bioplastics but also reduces environmental contamination caused by disposal of waste oil.”

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One way of producing bio-plastics is by using a bacteria, Ralstonia eutropha. The bacteria naturally produces PHB plastic and can accumulate plastic until it makes up approximately 90 percent of the organism’s weight.

The bacteria have previously been used to make plastic from a solution of pure glucose. However, the University of Warwick bio-engineers found the bacteria to be three times more productive when grown in used cooking oil.

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The cooking oil based plastics also proved to be superior to glucose based plastics for producing high grade plastics used in the medical industry.

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Knives, forks, and spoons made from a biodegradable starch-polyester material. (United States Department of Agriculture, Wikimedia Commons)