• The University of Oviedo participates in a European project to generate textiles and bioplastics from natural sources

    July 09, 2020

    INTERfaces focuses on the use of chemical compounds from the timber industry and agriculture to obtain others with high added value

    Iván Lavandera García y Vicente Gotor Fernández.

    The University of Oviedo participates in a European project to generate textile and bioplastic materials (plant-origin plastics) using chemical compounds from natural sources. The project, called INTERfaces, focuses on the use of natural resources, modifying compounds from the timber industry and agriculture to obtain compounds with high added value. Enzymes (also known as biocatalysts) are thus used in cascade processes to manufacture chemicals sustainably. Funded by the European Union with a total of 3.7 million euro, INTERfaces has the participation of the Asturian academic institution through professors Vicente Gotor Fernández and Iván Lavandera García.

    Enzymes or biocatalysts are proteins present in all living things. They act in nature in a very selective way, resulting in multiple products simply and naturally. The objective of initiatives such as this project is to transfer these processes that occur in real life to a university laboratory, thus achieving a sustainable process.

    The use of these enzymes means greater respect for the environment, also obtaining energy and economic savings by carrying out the processes in cascade; in other words, executing several synthetic steps simultaneously or continuously in the same container. The preparation of chemical products entails gradually increasing the complexity: starting from a commercially accessible product or a product extracted from nature, a modification is made in one part of the molecule, then in another, and another and so on until functional product for a certain application is achieved. The objective is that all these steps can be carried out in the same container, since up until now, after each synthesis step, each molecule must be isolated and separated from other impurities or reagents that have remained unreacted, which can alter the evolution of the following stages.

    The consortium includes 10 academic institutions and 13 companies from the European chemical and biotechnology sectors, and plans to hire 14 doctoral students to carry out their theses in collaborative industry/university projects. Two of these students will carry out their doctoral studies within the University of Oviedo's Synthesis and Reactivity Programme, one in collaboration with the Swedish company EnginZyme and the other with the Italian company BioPox.

    Professors Iván Lavandera García and Vicente Gotor Fernández will oversee the project, coordinating various training aspects such as harmonising the doctoral theses of the 14 students involved in the project and developing on-line training courses related to sustainable chemical processes. In the research aspect, they will focus on developing enzymatic processes using different classes of enzymes simultaneously or consecutively, which enables various natural and renewable products to be modified to obtain others with high added value such as polyesters and polyamides, which have multiple applications in bioplastic production and in the textile industry, respectively.

    The project has a four-year duration and will run until December 2023.