Students at the University of Alberta have found a new way to handle waste products. Through their research, they have been able to discover how to turn these products that would typically be tossed into the dumpster into something reusable. Waste sludge from paper recycling plants is being used to create chemicals and products. The students have formed their own biotech company called Upcycled Aromatics. They project $4.5 million in revenue annually for the acid they produce that will be used in the drug Tamiflu.

One of the team members, Crystal Theodore says, “As we continue to grow as a population around the world, it becomes more and more difficult to find solutions for our personal waste. Finding a project that not only has a solution for the waste issues, but turns that into something that’s useful in other industries, is a really exciting advancement.”

The crux of these experiments is that the students are able to convert waste, in this case the waste produced by certain paper products, into chemicals that can be used for various products. One such product is the anti-flu drug Tamiflu. According to their website, this process is done mostly in two steps. Cellulose is a product of waste sludge from the process of recycling plants. This cellulose is converted into glucose by modifying bacteria to feed on that cellulose inside of the paper pulp. Then, depending on what they want to make, that glucose is turned into different chemicals. Their website has a much better explanation than someone who is not in any way involved with science can explain.

According to Theodore, “The waste that we’re using is paper fibres that can no longer by recycled.” These fibres would typically be shipped off to landfills or other locations where it would all sit. Instead, they avoid the dumpster and are used to create anything from pharmaceutical drugs to fragrances, to plastics of various sorts. With a processing plant large enough, the team estimates they could save 50 tons of waste per day from going to the landfill. This is a truly revolutionary form of waste removal and disposal. Chemical Engineering students have sometimes been wrongfully-accused in the past for researching non-reusable and sometimes unpopular methods of production.

Projects such as these are cropping up all over as students attending university are trying to be conscious about the effects our civilization has on the environment. Every day it seems a new discovery has been made and a better tomorrow is ahead of us. Without people such as the members of Upcycled Aromatics, we would be caught in the trappings of our past and doing more harm than good when it comes to the preservation effort. We will continually try to highlight scientific advances in the environmental community. When only the most essential debris is tossed into the waste container units of the world, we all win. Check back for more stories on this industry and any updates on the subject of this entry.

Story Via University of Alberta

Pic Via Rillke