Dutch Water Authorities continue investments in one the most sustainable bioplastics

Five water authorities have pledged a financial contribution to a demonstration installation for the production of fully biodegradable bioplastics from wastewater. This installation will be running in 2021. The water authorities thus contribute to the intended circular economy in 2050. Wastewater is an important source of energy and raw materials for water authorities. Since 2007, they have been intensively collaborating ever more to recover valuable substances such as biogas, cellulose, phosphate, alginate, biomass and also thus, sustainable bioplastics. In this case the type PHA. Depending on its application, it can contribute to the reduction of fossil micro plastics in the environment.

Bacteria produce fully biodegradable bioplastic

In 2016, the water authorities made the bioplastic PHA in the pilot project 'PHARIO' (PHA uit RIOolwater) (PHA from sewage), using bacteria that treat wastewater on a large scale. The bioplastic 'PHA' is a natural polyester of high quality. Strong but also completely degradable under (cold) natural conditions. The unique qualities of PHA are particularly relevant for applications with a temporary function such as coating for fertiliser and seeds, degradable nets and bags, films for use in agriculture or as an alternative to fishing lead. The special thing about PHA from wastewater is that it is not made from food crops but from organic waste streams. This makes it one of the most sustainable bioplastics.

Market development

After the pilot tests, the water authorities investigated whether the market was ripe for this development, this turned out to be a little too premature. The demonstration installation for PHA from wastewater is needed to further develop its applications and to be sure of a ready market. The market for PHA plastic is currently under development and shows much promise. The plastics industry, which now usually works with fossil plastics, first wants to have enough material to test the processing and applications for it. The demonstration installation will supply the necessary quantities for this.

Operational in 2021

The water authorities combine this initiative with another initiative by HVC to make PHA from their wastewater. This creates more impact. The joint demonstration installation (PHA2USE) requires an investment of which 2.5 million euros has now been realised by the five water authorities. In addition, HVC and technology supplier Paques are also investing in the joint project PHA2USE. A request for a European LIFE + subsidy has been submitted. Once the subsidy has been obtained, the water authorities and their partners can commence building the demonstration installation. It is expected that this installation will deliver the first kilos of bioplastic PHA from sewage and industrial wastewater in early 2021 and applications of the plastic will be further developed. The intended location for the installation is at the HVC sludge incineration plant next to the Dordrecht wastewater treatment plant run by water authority Hollandse Delta. In this way, the province of South Holland is now being included in this initiative originally taken by water authorities in the provinces of Brabant, Friesland and Zeeland.

Partners

PHARIO is an initiative by a consortium consisting of the Dutch regional water authorities Brabantse Delta, Scheldestromen, Wetterskip Fryslân, De Dommel, and Hollandse Delta. They are united in the Energy and Resources Factory. PHARIO will soon be part of the PHA2USE project that is co-financed by HVC and Paques. STOWA, SNB, TU Delft and Wetsus support the initiative with further knowledge development.