This Startup’s AI Designs Enzymes That Can Eat Plastic Waste

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  • Source: Forbes
  • 05/03/2024
In a lab tucked away in an old gun factory in New Haven, Connecticut, a machine heated plastic waste to 536 degrees Fahrenheit and spat out gloopy strings of material that start to harden when they hit the air. This substance — made of textiles and post-industrial scrap that were destined for a landfill — will be ground to bits to create as much surface area as possible.

It’s about to become food for an enzyme designed with the help of artificial intelligence, made by the startup Protein Evolution. The company’s ambition is to use AI to engineer new enzymes that are able to break down plastics and plastic-based textiles.

“What happens next is we feed it to the sharks,” joked chief technology officer Jay Konieczka, who stood with a white lab coat next to a reactor filled with enzymes and water, which will break the plastics down to their core components. The resulting material, from the process the company calls Biopure, is supposed to be indistinguishable from polyester made from petroleum, and can be used the same way in fabrics. Protein Evolution hopes its enzyme process will allow old clothes, sheets and other textiles to become fully recyclable.
Plastic pollution by Naja Bertolt Jensen is licensed under Unsplash

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