PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 20, 2012 — With 1.3 billion tons of food trashed, dumped in landfills and otherwise wasted around the world every year, scientists today described development and successful laboratory testing of a new “biorefinery” intended to change food waste into a key ingredient for making plastics, laundry detergents and scores of other everyday products.
Their report on a project launched in cooperation with the Starbucks restaurant chain – concerned with sustainability and seeking a use for spent coffee grounds and stale bakery goods – came at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. Thousands of scientists and others are here this week for the meeting of the world’s largest scientific society, which features almost 8,600 reports on new discoveries in science.
|A biorefinery (right) turns used coffee grounds and uneaten bakery items into detergents and bio-plastics. Carol Lin, Ph.D.|
“Our new process addresses the food waste problem by turning Starbucks’ trash into treasure — detergent ingredients and bio-plastics that can be incorporated into other useful products,” said Carol S. K. Lin, Ph.D., who led the research team. “The strategy reduces the environmental burden of food waste, produces a potential income from this waste and is a sustainable solution.”
The idea took shape during a meeting last summer between representatives of the nonprofit organization called The Climate Group and Lin at her laboratory at the City University of Hong Kong. The Climate Group asked her about applying her transformative technology, called a biorefinery, to the wastes of one of its members — Starbucks Hong Kong. To help jump-start the research, Starbucks Hong Kong donated a portion of the proceeds from each purchase of its “Care for Our Planet Cookies” gift set.
Lin’s team already had experience in developing the technology needed to do it ? a so-called biorefinery. Just as oil refineries convert petroleum into fuels and ingredients for hundreds of consumer products, biorefineries convert corn, sugar cane and other plant-based material into a range of ingredients for bio-based fuels and other products.
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