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South Korean conglomerate CJ Cheiljedang has started the mass production of PHA biodegradable plastic – or polyhydroxyalkanoates, ABC News reported on 24 July.

PHA is considered a viable alternative to petroleum-based plastic because the new technology allows its plastic waste to completely decompose in the ocean and soil in a significantly shorter period of time, according to the report.

“Plastics made from crude oil are said to take over 500 years to completely decompose, while biodegradable plastics take decades at most,” SungYeon Hwang, head of the Bio-based Chemistry Research Center at the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology, told ABC News.

“Biodegradable plastic does not pollute the sea even if it accidentally flows into the shore.”

The next generation of plastic, PHA – made from microorganism fermentation – is currently manufactured by US company Danimer, based in Georgia, and Japanese firm Kaneka, according to the report.

Seoul-based CJ Cheiljedang, which manufactures food ingredients, food, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, planned to build a 5,000 tonne PHA manufacturing line in Indonesia by the end of this year, ABC News wrote.

The process of making solid PHA material begins by engineering and creating microorganisms, the report said, and researchers at CJ Cheiljedang’s lab in Suwon, south of Seoul, grow and nurture microorganisms and select the strongest strain through automated machines.

“These selected strains are optimally grown in a controlled environment where we tightly regulate the shaking speed and temperature,” researcher Park Yae-seul told ABC News.

The chosen strains go through a fermentation process during which the cells are grown in bioreactors and then fed with sugar made from feedstock for better production of PHA, the report said.

Following a period of fermentation, the materials go through a refinery process where PHA are dehydrated and aggregated before being made into long strands of liquid plastic, which later dries up into solid biodegradable plastic materials, according to ABC News.

CJ Cheiljedang’s PHA had been certified biodegradable in industry use, household compost, soil and water by biodegradability testing and certification institution TUV Austria, the report said.

The global bioplastic production market is forecast to reach up to 2.8M tonnes by 2025, according to the European Bioplastics’ market analysis in 2020.