By: Swapna Tarafdar

MUSCAT: Researchers at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) are trying to study if paper waste can be used to produce biofuel and bioplastic.

Titled, ‘Isolation and identification of thermophilic cellulose producing bacteria and its potential application in bioconversion of waste paper’, the research which began this January, will be conducted in three phases.

The research will be conducted by setting up a pilot scale bioprocessing laboratory at the college’s biology department.

Principal investigator of the study and assistant professor, Dr Sivakumar Nallusamy, department of biology at the College of Science in SQU said, “A major part of the municipal waste in Oman and any part of the world comprises paper. The proposed research is a unique and challenging attempt to manage the growing quantity of paper waste which is an environmental and health concern in any country. We will find out if this waste could be used to produce biofuel and bioplastic.”

He said that according to a 2010 survey, about 1.6mn tonnes of solid waste is dumped in landfills across Oman every year.

“Of this, 62,000 tonnes is paper waste. This could be used as a source to produce an economically important cellulase enzyme. Using the cellulase enzyme, the paper waste could be degraded and as a substrate to produce commercially important products using suitable microorganisms. So far, there are no national projects that deal with the bioconversion of waste.”

Explaining the process further, Dr Nallusamy said, “Cellulose is an important plant polymer and one of the most abundant and renewable carbon sources on earth. Cellulases are inducible enzymes produced by microorganisms to degrade cellulose when cellulosic materials are supplied as substrates. Application of cellulase enzymes in paper, detergent and leather industries demands the finding of highly stable enzymes active at extreme pH and temperature.

“In this study, microbes will be collected from different environment and will be tested for their cellulase producing capability. The best native microbes would be used for the bioconversion of paper wastes.”

The project will be funded by The Research Council till 2017. The outcome of this project could open avenues for large scale production if taken up by industries.