Breakthroughs in bioplastics could help break down two of the world’s most pressing problems at once, says a Virginia Tech professor researching to improve production of food-based, cost-effective, decomposable plastic. At Virginia Tech, Zhiwu ‘Drew’ Wang is director of the Center for Applied Water Research and Innovation, and assistant professor for the Department of Biological Systems Engineering. “People already know a lot about the food waste problem, and they should also know a lot about the plastic problem,” he said. But, “Usually, people don’t see the correlation between food waste and plastic waste.”

In a specially designed lab, Wang is readying to upscale production of PHA-based bioplastic, repurposing waste food scraps. It’s funded by a $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and is a continuation of earlier grant-paid bioplastic research, he said. “I can convert food waste to plastic,” Wang said. “These two individual, separate problems can be addressed in this one technology, all together.”

Having already completed lab-scale studies of bioplastic production at Virginia Tech for the U.S. Department of Energy, Wang is now tasked by the USDA to upscale the process and bring it closer to real-world uses. “There is a trend in the U.S. that universities should not only publish papers,” Wang said. “They should also develop technology that can be useful. Useful, that’s the key word.”

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Author: Luke Weir,