Scientists create biodegradable plastic using solar energy

The team’s success in using solar energy to synthesize fumaric acid shows promise in using artificial photosynthesis in the future.


Scientists from Osaka Metropolitan University have found a way to synthesize fumaric acid, a raw material using for producing the biodegradable plastic polybutylene succinate, using artificial photosynthesis. The plastic, typically made from petroleum, was synthesized from carbon dioxide, biomass-derived compounds, and solar energy.

The study, published in the journal Sustainable Energy & Fuels, documents the first time that fumaric acid has been successfully synthesized from carbon dioxide and sunlight. The research shows that fumaric acid can be made from carbon dioxide and biomass rather than petroleum.

“Toward the practical application of artificial photosynthesis, this research has succeeded in using visible light — renewable energy — as the power source,” Yutaka Amao, professor from the Research Center for Artificial Photosynthesis at Osaka Metropolitan University and study author, said in a statement. “In the future, we aim to collect gaseous CO2 and use it to synthesize fumaric acid directly through artificial photosynthesis.”

According to the authors, fumarate is typically synthesized from petroleum and emits high amounts of carbon dioxide when produced. The findings show promise in using solar energy and carbon dioxide rather than fossil fuels to produce this resource.

The team used solar energy to power a photoredox system, converting carbon dioxide and pyruvic acid, derived from biomass, into the fumaric acid via malate dehydrogenase and fumarase.

“Our work with this system was, to the best of our knowledge, the first example of achieving the fixation of CO2 to pyruvate using electron accumulation in NAD+ with light energy as well as the conversion of the resulting fixed pyruvate to an unsaturated dicarboxylate,” the authors said of the study.

The team was led by Amao and Mika Takeuchi, graduate student at the Osaka Metropolitan University Graduate School of Science.

This study builds on the team’s previous research, which developed fumaric acid via biocatalysts in July 2022.

“The biocatalysts were used to convert CO2 into a raw material for plastic,” Amao said at the time of the previous research, as reported by ScienceDaily. “Based on our results, we will continue to construct better CO2 conversion systems with an even lower environmental impact; we are aiming for more efficient conversion of CO2 into useful substances, using light energy.”

The team’s success in using solar energy to synthesize fumaric acid shows promise in using artificial photosynthesis in the future to synthesize other beneficial macromolecules from carbon dioxide and relying less on fossil fuels.


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Based in Los Angeles, Paige Bennett is a writer who is passionate about sustainability. Aside from writing for EcoWatch, Paige also writes for Insider, HomeAdvisor, Thrillist, EuroCheapo, Eat This, Not That! and more. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Journalism from Ohio University and holds a certificate in Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She also specialized in sustainable agriculture while pursuing her undergraduate degree. When she's not writing, Paige enjoys decorating her apartment, enjoying a cup of coffee and experimenting in the kitchen (with local, seasonal ingredients, of course!).