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Title: Biodegradation of polyurethane under composting conditions
Author: Zafar, Urooj
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2013
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Plastic are a highly durable, lightweight and low cost family of polymeric materials that form an essential and integral component of today’s world. Their continued world-wide large scale manufacture has led them to be a major component of man-made waste. A large proportion of plastic waste is directed to the landfill sites, however their low degradation rates, scarcity of landfill sites and growing water and land pollution problems require alternatives to be developed. Composting is a natural process involving aerobic decomposition of organic wastes by a mixed microbial consortium that involves thermophilic microbes during the process due to the heat generated during decomposition. In this study we investigated the biodegradation of polyurethane under composting conditions. Polyurethanes are heteropolymers with a wide range of applications in the medical, automotive, construction and domestic field and in Europe account for 7% of all plastic manufacture and have been shown to be susceptible to biodegradation, particularly by fungi. In this thesis, it was found that loss in tensile strength of >70% occurs at both mesophilic (25°C) and thermophilic (45° and 50°C) temperatures under laboratory conditions and so is susceptible to degradation at all stages of the composting process. Moreover, polyester PU buried in compost piles at a commercial composting site during the maturation phase of an in silo composting process also underwent substantial degradation. Non-culture based analysis by TRFLP, DGGE and 454 pyrosequencing revealed that the fungal communities colonising the surface of PU was substantially different from the surrounding compost indicating selection of fungi on the PU surface. Pyrosequencing revealed that under laboratory conditions, at 25°C Fusarium solani, and 45°C and 50°C, Candida ethanolica was the dominant organism recovered from the PU surface, whereas at the commercial composting site an unidentified fungal clone and Arthrographis kalrae were the dominant organisms recovered. When the microparticulate polyester PU dispersion impranil was added to compost, a substantial shift in the indigenous fungal population was observed along with an increase in fungal viable numbers, however, addition of larger solid PU had no lasting effect on the surrounding compost community. This study demonstrates that polyester PU is highly susceptible to degradation in during composting and indicates a future potential for directing PU wastes to existing commercial composting processes.
Supervisor: Robson, Geoffrey; Cavet, Jennifer Sponsor: Higher Education Commission, University of Karachi, Pakistan
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: polyurethane ; composting ; fungi ; biodegradation ; thermophilic