MTU professor research turns plastic into edible protein to fight food insecurity and eliminate waste


HOUGHTON, Mich. (WJMN) – The plastic in edible protein doesn’t look very appetizing. However, Steve Techtmann says it’s not as crazy as it sounds.

Techtmann is an associate professor of biological sciences at Michigan Tech. In 2020, he was one of the researchers selected to turn military plastic waste into protein powder and lubricants.

“We were trying to find a way to take things that were considered waste that we would throw away and turn them into something valuable,” Techtmann said. “And plastic is one of that garbage that we use all the time. It is sometimes recycled, but much of it ends up in landfill. What we were trying to see whether or not we could use bacteria to help us convert that plastic into something valuable.

And bacterial cells are about half of the proteins. So they have all the nutrients we would really need to be used as food. […] People have been working for some time on how we can use bacteria to break down plastics. I think converting that into food is new and interesting.

Techtmann’s research earned him the Future Insight 2021 award from Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, with more than $ 1 million awarded for further research. Techtmann collaborated with graduate students and colleagues at Michigan Tech, and Ting Lu, professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois.

“I shared this with my collaborator at the University of Illinois. So we get half of it to do science here at Michigan Tech. So the money is for research and it allows me to support some of the people who work with the graduate students in my lab.

So how exactly does the transformation of plastic into protein work?

Techtmann explains the process from plastic to protein.

Techtmann said this research is just one of the ways Michigan Tech is making its mark.

“It’s very exciting to be a part of that at Michigan Tech. I think Michigan Tech is a unique place to do this kind of work because we have such diverse expertise. I think it also highlights the really exciting work that is going on at Michigan Tech and being able to really show the world the capabilities of what’s going on here. ”

Research will continue over the next four years, and the protein powder is expected to be used in the near future for emergency and disaster relief.

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