Artificial photosynthesis boosts bioplastic production in Japanese study

26 February 2024 | Muriel Cozier

‘This is an extremely important advancement for the complex bio/photocatalyst system.’

Researchers at Osaka Metropolitan University in Japan have developed an artificial photosynthesis technique to boost fumaric acid production – a building block for biodegradable plastics – using carbon dioxide as a feedstock.

Publishing their work in the journal Dalton Transactions, the research team have developed a photosynthesiser and an effective visible-light driven technique that they say doubles the yield of fumaric acid, compared to conventional methods.

The process is driven by a cationic zinc porphyrin-based photocatalytic system. The researchers have already demonstrated the synthesis of fumaric acid using carbon dioxide, bicarbonate and pyruvic acid derived from biomass using solar energy. However, the product yield from this work remained low.

‘This is an extremely important advancement for the complex bio/photocatalyst system. It is a valuable step forward in our quest to synthesise fumaric acid from renewable energy sources with even higher yields, steering us toward a more sustainable future,’ said Professor Yutaka Amao of the Research Centre for Artificial Photosynthesis at Osaka Metropolitan University.

Fumaric acid is traditionally synthesised from petroleum resources, and is a precursor for biodegradable plastics; poly(butylene succinate) and poly(propylene fumarate). The researchers say that along with limited resources, the growing interest in the carbon cycle in chemical synthesis has led to increased interest in the development of bio-based fumaric acid.

At the start of 2023, academic and industry partners, led by Unilever and facilitated by SCI, began work on the Flue2Chem project, which is taking waste carbon dioxide from manufacturing processes to use as the basis for household cleaning products. The project could have an important role in helping the UK reach its net zero targets by 2050.

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