Conversion of Food Waste into Polylactic acid Fibre

In Hong Kong, there are around 3,600 tonnes of food waste generated, which is made up of 40% of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). Fifty-two percent (52%) of the MSW generated is dumped into landfills. It is estimated that by 2018, all current landfill sites in Hong Kong will be exhausted. Exploiting food waste and by-product streams generated by the food industry for chemical and material production could create integrated, sustainable and bio-based processes. In this project, we aim at studies of novel bioprocesses using food wastes for the sustainable production of polylactic acid fibre in textile application. The outcomes of the proposed project are expected to contribute in sustainable production of polylactic acid fibre production, and novel approaches of food waste treatment.

Application

Food waste which is rich in carbohydrate and sugars is first degraded into soluble nutrients by adding two natural enzymes. Then, the nutrients in food waste are utilised for lactic acid production by bacteria during fermentation. Lastly, lactic acid is recovered and polymerised into PLA through a chemical reaction using a novel nano-catalyst.

The PLA is produced at a high purity and spun into fibre by melt spinning, which is a convenient method for polymer fibre manufacturing. Like all natural fibres, the PLA fibre is bio-degradable and composts over time. Garments made by such PLA fibre will degrade to H2O and CO2 after their useful life and so further reduce impacts on the environment.

Technological Breakthrough

The PLA obtained can be manufactured into fibre through melt spinning and can thus play a significant role in textile production.

As the PLA is biodegradable, the final textile products can be degraded ultimately into H2O and CO2 in a natural environment. In this way, a sustainable PLA life cycle is created.

Awards
44th International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva (2016) - Gold Medal with jury's commendation
Project Name (ITF)
Conversion of Food Waste into Polylactic acid Fibre
Project Number (ITF)
ITP/002/14TP