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Pitch

We make microbes that convert post-consumer polyester back into their raw materials. Same raw materials can be used to make new polyester.


Description

Summary

Ambercycle makes chemicals from waste plastic. Our chemicals cost less than those sourced directly from petroleum. We achieve this by using our unique enzymes to convert plastic polymers into their constituent chemicals. Our primary chemical of interest is terephthalic acid, a chemical used in the production of many plastics. We are producing terephthalic acid through breaking down Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), the world’s most consumed plastic polymers.

PET is used in many things, a few of them being containers, textiles, resins, and fibers. 

Our chemical serves as a drop in replacement to existing plastic manufacturing processes. We intend to produce these chemical cheaper than existing manufacturing processes because we start with a low cost feedstock in waste plastic. 


What actions do you propose?

Our process involves standard fermentation technology. We make our unique enzymes, treat a waste plastic, and then extract the valuable chemicals that result. Contamination does not affect our process, as our enzymes are selective to only degrade PET plastic. The enzymes we use are non-natural, and have enormous potential to shift plastics recycling away from incineration and towards a more closed loop system. 


Who will take these actions?


Where will these actions be taken?

Preliminary R&D will occur in the United States, however for multiple economic reasons international sites for process implementation will be more attractive


What are other key benefits?

We plan to address the societal and environmental problem of PET polyester waste accumulation and dependence on petroleum for new PET products. The lifecycle of polyester today is linear, as much post-consumer clothing and industrial scrap has virtually zero economic value. Additionally, many modern textiles are blends of multiple materials. Fibers like nylon and cotton have existing commodity-type secondary markets, but cannot be separated from polyester blended textiles. Polyester blends are thus a major pain point for the textile industry. Our innovation will solve this problem.


What are the proposal’s costs?

Our effort will require capital investment, although no new machinery will be necessary. We anticipate philanthropic and traditional/corporate VC capital support, supplemented by non-dilutive government grants, due to the high technology nature of our innovation. 

Negative side effects include phasing out existing recycling processes. 


Time line

We intend on developing a pilot plant to test and optimize our process in the next 5 years. Following pilot plant demonstration, bolt on processing plant units will be implemented next to existing waste streams. We expect multiple plant construction to begin in 10 years, with positive social and environmental benefit trickling down over the next 30 years. In 100 years, the exponential potential of our technology could mean that there will effectively zero plastic going to our environment. 


Related proposals


References

http://unep.org/gpa/documents/publications/BiodegradablePlastics.pdf

http://www.unep.org/regionalseas/marinelitter/publications/docs/plastic_ocean_report.pdf

http://www3.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/2012_msw_fs.pdf