UVM Students Investigate the Production of Clean Energy through the Decomposition of PET Plastic

16/02/2017


Two Chemical Pharmaceutical Biotechnology students from Universidad del Valle de México (UVM) have conducted research on the generation of clean energy through polymers (plastic residues) which may take up to 500 years to decompose. 

Enrique de Jesús López Vásquez and José Gilberto Vásquez Contreras aim to solve environmental problems through biotechnological innovation. Enrique explained that one of the main environmental issues today is excessive plastic waste because their degradation time is extremely slow. According to data from the Mexican government over 670 thousand tons of polyethylene terephthalate plastic is discarded every year.  

On the other hand, obtaining energy through fossil fuels or thermoelectric sources also represents an environmental problem because incomplete combustion produces greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, air pollution and acid rain. 

Given these conditions, the students sought to propose solutions through enzymatic technology, which produces electric energy through specific enzymes capable of degrading complex polymers such as PET. 

The procedure consists of using enzymes in a bioreactor to degrade PET plastic, separating its main components allowing their ionization to facilitate the exchange of electrons through potential difference, which produces clean electric energy without combustion. The generation of energy through this process generates water instead of carbon dioxide, therefore it does not pollute the environment.  

The first trial produced 0.9 volts of electrical energy, further research is necessary to achieve higher voltages. The student researchers are optimistic about the future of this technology, “Energy generation through enzymatic activity will be the future of renewable energy and can be applied to a wide spectrum of industries and forms of transportation,” said López Vásquez.