A University of Bath spin-out company called Naturbeads has been awarded funding to develop their biodegradable alternative to plastic microbeads that could cut the use of microplastics in a range of industries. Naturbeads is working with its partners to replace microplastics with biodegradable microbeads made from cellulose. These latest funds will be used to perform a feasibility study to investigate the use of cellulose microbeads as a carrier for enzymes in industrial chemical production.
While plastic microbeads were banned from rinse-off personal care products such as shower gels and toothpaste, they are still used extensively across the pharmaceutical, chemical and cosmetics industries - in leave-on cosmetic products like wrinkle creams and make up, in paints and coatings, in detergents, in agriculture and horticulture and many other applications.
Currently, around 250,000 tonnes of microplastics from consumer and industrial products end up in the oceans every year, equivalent to the plastic pollution generated by 20 billion plastic bottles. They pose an ecotoxicological risk, not only for much of the aquatic life found in freshwater and ocean water, but also for organisms further up in the food chain, including humans.
Enzymes are biological catalysts from cells that are often used in the pharmaceutical industry to do complex chemistry at low temperatures that would require many steps if done manually. The enzymes are designed and manufactured by biocatalysis company ChiralVision. They are attached to plastic microbeads to catalyse a wide range of chemical reactions making products that can be used in pharmaceuticals, food, and cosmetics.
“Linking the enzymes to microbeads enables them to be easily separated and recovered from the end product, said CEO and co-founder at Naturbeads, Giovanna Laudisio.
The project brings together the know-how developed at the University of Bath, the processing technology developed by Naturbeads and an industrial partner looking to exploit commercially the outcome of this project.
“We’ve already proven that our cellulose microbeads can be used on a small scale in the lab,” said Professor Karen Edler, from the Centre for Sustainable and Circular Technologies at the University of Bath. “This project will enable us to explore the feasibility of doing this on an industrial scale.”
The company has been awarded £47,000 by Innovate UK for a three-month project as part of the competitive Small Business Research Initiative which enables organisations to research and develop products that provide innovative solutions. This is the 3rd Innovate UK grant awarded to the company, for a total funding of over £1m, since January 2019.