Two Belgian researchers in the final of the European Inventor Award 2023


The two professors from KULeuven were selected for their innovative bioplastics manufacturing process. An invention that will soon be implemented by a major energy group.

Bert Sels and Michiel Dusselier are the two professors and researchers selected from over 600 candidates as finalists in the "Industry" category of the European Inventor Award 2023, to be presented on 4 July in Valencia (Spain).

They have come up with a much simpler way of manufacturing bioplastics than the processes currently used in industry, namely without using any fossil resources or toxic chemicals.

Their method for producing bioplastics, which the two researchers have called polylactic acid (PLA), apparently only requires a single stage, unlike current processes which involve two or three. Less energy is also needed to produce the final bioplastic, less raw material is required in the first place, and much less waste is generated.

Specifically, the basic raw material used to synthesise this PLA is lactic acid, derived from natural resources such as sugar or wood chips. The lactic acid is then converted into lactide using a catalyst in which the lactic acid molecules react directly with the lactide in a single stage, at a temperature more than 100°C cooler than in the traditional method.

Such a reduction in the cost of producing bioplastics has already caught the eye of the TotalEnergies group, which is working on implementing the Belgian process on an industrial scale.