Global demand for vanillin was in excess of 37,000 tonnes in 2018, authors noted Picture for representation (Image: Wikimedia)
Researchers have found a way to convert plastic trash into Vanillin -- the main component of widely popular vanilla flavour. The study conducted by scientists at the University of Edinburgh found that common bacteria E. coli can be deployed as a sustainable way to convert post-consumer plastic into vanillin.
Vanillin is the primary component of extracted vanilla beans and is responsible for the characteristic taste and smell of vanilla.
The scientists used polyethylene terephthalate (PET), widely used for packaging foods and convenience-sized juices and water to conduct the research.
The research, published in the journal Green Chemistry, states that scientists achieved 79 percent conversion to vanillin from the plastic-derived molecule, terephthalic acid (TA).
The team also demonstrated how the technique works by converting a used plastic bottle into vanillin by adding E. coli to the degraded plastic waste.
"This is the first example of using a biological system to upcycle plastic waste into a valuable industrial chemical and this has very exciting implications for the circular economy. The results from our research have major implications for the field of plastic sustainability and demonstrate the power of synthetic biology to address real-world challenges," said Joanna Sadler, first author, University of Edinburgh.
Researchers said that the vanillin produced would be fit for human consumption but further experimental tests are required.
Vanillin is widely used in the food and cosmetics industries, as well as the formulation of herbicides, antifoaming agents and cleaning products.
Global demand for vanillin was in excess of 37,000 tonnes in 2018, authors noted, adding that the demand is projected to exceed 59 000 tonnes with a revenue forecast of $734 000 000 by 2025.
As its demand far exceeds the supply from vanilla beans (natural vanillin), methods for its synthesis (synthetic vanillin) have been widely investigated, they added.
Authors said that the transformation could boost the circular economy, which aims to eliminate waste, keep products and materials in use and have positive impacts on synthetic biology.