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Dr Joshua Pearce - Michigan Tech(nological University) Open Sustainability Technology

June 22 eric poliner:

Hello Dr Pearce,

I am a new graduate student at Michigan State University and a fellow with the Plant Research Laboratory. For about six months, I have been working on research and development for Open Source Ecology in the area of bioplastics. Projects under development include cellulose/starch, polyethylene. polylactic acid, and a moldable mycelium. I am a biologist not a materials scientist and have not actually tested any of the protocols, and have been trying without success to get an expert in the field to review my work. Maybe you could take a look? The research and development section of each page contains literature that I have reviewed and the manufacturing instructions contain proposed protocols. If I am on the right track I can add the literature reviews that are under the R&D sections to your MOST literature review page . Hope you can give me some feedback and I would love to talk to you some more.

Peace, Eric Poliner

Jun 25 Joshua Pearce

Hi Eric

Thank you for the note -- it is actually really good timing I have been looking for someone on the bio-side of things for sometime now to help out with the PLA work - and I just spend a few hundred dollars buying PLA pellets -- I would much prefer to sink the next batch of funding into building one of your bioreactors.

My groups interest in plastic is primarily for 3D printers - so we would be most interested in collaboration on your PLA work. Currently we are focusing on recycling post-consumer waste plastic into 3D filament and electrically-conductive filament - and are fully set up with everything needed to make filament, print, test mechanical and electrical properties etc. If you can make it we would love to test it. Although we might also be of some use on the fabricating the equipment side. I am starting an MTU Enterprise next year to focus on OS hardware - and as the Zhang and Wang method looks promising and do-able on the small scale - we might be interested in helping design/develop some of the components. Has OSE already thought about things like making OS vacuum pumps?

In terms of feedback - you have a really good start - but I would strongly suggest focusing on one of the projects and hammer it all the way through -- these projects are always much more involved than we expect - and to get something reliably reproducible by others without resorting to high-cost components is always a challenge. The work that you are doing in essentially chemical engineering is sort of the exact opposite of what everyone else in the field is trying to do (e.g. bulk commodities in large economy of scale reactors) - so it is going to be a challenge. Has OSE given you some support in terms of R&D costs to continue?

All the best, Joshua

Jun 25 eric poliner:

Hi Joshua,

Thanks for taking a look at the development so far and your feedback. OSE's goal is to decentralize production to create production by the masses instead of the current mass production system. I started helping OSE to develop the background information for harvesting renewable natural resources and turning them into the raw materials needed for production, however the organization is focused on open sourcing production and farm machinery at this point. I have exchanged emails with Marcin, OSE founder and executive, about developing the chemical engineering hardware necessary to produce bioplastics (and other chemicals), and he understandably is only willing to fund projects occurring at their site. So in short OSE would like to pursue this work but they have higher priorities first. Would you mind if I forward our conversation to Marcin and post it on the wiki talk page?

In regards to collaborating with your projects, I would be interested. PLA seems like a good middle of the road bioplastic that can be used for distributed manufacturing and produced on a small scale. Lactic acid is a chiral molecule and this presents a challenge to creating a desirable bioplastic from it. From what I understand to create a crystalline bioplastic with high strength and high melting temperature there are two routes: either the use of chirally pure lactic acid for direct polymerization or the alternating (ring opening) polymerization of L form and D form dilactide. Either way you need chirally pure LA or a selective catalyst (this technology seems to be proprietary), and thus I leaned towards using L-LA which is singly produced by some LA microogansims. Lactic acid producing microorganisms include bacteria (lactobacilli is favored) and certain fungi. LA is produced during fermentation and can be conducted in a fermentor bioreactor (I would eventually like to develop an OS lab version) or sealed flasks. Microorganisms can be heterolactic (producing racemic LA) or homolactic (usually producing L+). Purification starts with separating the LA containing broth from cells and debris (filtration), salting out of the lactic acid with calcium carbonate/hydroxide (this produces a great deal of waste), and/or reactive distillation with methanol or ethanol. With these hurdles recycling seems to be an endrun around production issues but from what I understand many plastics degrades significantly when remolded. You are absolutely right to take a project like this to completion will take a great deal more research, working out many more details, and probably some experimentation.

If you send me information on the PLA you purchased I can do some background research and see if I can propose a route replicate it. To start I would suggest sealable flasks would be adequate for fermentation. I can't give much of an estimate on what would be necessary to purify polymerization grade LA from microorganism broth, do you have access to (electro)dialysis or distillation equipment? With a little research I can probably give an estimate of a microorganisms yield. I would definitely like to hear any details you're willing to share on your planned enterprise. I just started my grad program with a summer rotation and in the fall will be rotating again and taking classes so I may have to focus on those starting in September.

Talk to you later, Eric

Jun 27 eric poliner:

Hi Joshua,

I found your proposal at so I have a better understanding of your business plan. I was planning to try to go to OSE's site next summer to try physical bioplastic production, but if you would have me, your lab would probably be better equipped and have access to knowledge bases that would allow greater progress. After feeling out the program here I should be able to manage a two month internship/rotation at MTU in the summer of 2013, where I could focus on PLA and OS hardware production. This would give me time to prepare a plan of action, define equipment requirements (and a budget), and make necessary arrangements. Would you be interested in working something like this out? i understand this is somewhat outside the core of your plan so I am open to discussion of other ideas.

Best, Eric

Jun 28 Joshua Pearce

Hi Eric

It is fine to forward our correspondence to Marcin and post. If we start a more formal collaboration I am all for open sourcing everything but will want to do so in a way that we can still publish in the peer-reviewed literature.

We got our PLA from NatureWorks, who is a commodity producer of Ingeo polylactide biopolymers (4043D, 60D). They have done a lot of good R&D on their products.

Our lab doesnt have any of the necessary equipment now on the bioside - but Tech has most everything somewhere - it will mean just developing the appropriate collaborations.

Jun 28 Joshua Pearce

Hi Eric

We can certainly talk about an internship/rotation. I don't currently have any funding for that - normally summer students work for free in my lab - but we could also look for some grants/fellowships for you.

However, as you point out we have lots of time - if you have all the equipment requirements worked out I can try to have everything in place for you to just come and really start hammering. The one thing we do have is all the extra characterization equipment (either in my lab directly or covered under the shared equipment in materials, electrical, mechanical and civil engineering) -- so if you can make the PLA we can test every aspect of it and rapidly accelerate the development of the material.


Jun 28 eric poliner:

Hi Joshua,

We are on the same page that doing this in a university setting would be according to peer review standards (I haven't published anything yet but I have manuscripts in preparation). I tried to do some background research on the Ingeo resin before, because it was advertised as open source, but the formulation information is only available to customers; it would make sense to pursue this again. At MSU I have a fellowship for the next two years and I think either of the professors I may choose to work with would be open to me pursuing a project like this at another university for a few months, there are some other options available too. For now I'll go back into the literature to define the process better and propose a plan. It's relatively straightforward to inoculate a feedstock with a LA bacteria and grow it under fermentation conditions, however the yield may be low in a batch system. I think the hardest step is going to be purification of the lactic acid from the media. I'll update you when I feel I have a solid rough draft proposal for a project.

Jun 28 eric poliner:

Hi Marcin,

I have made contact with a professor, Dr Joshua Pearce, at Michigan Technological University in the material sciences and engineering department at it looks like we may be working together in the future. He is interested open source technology, 3D printing, and photovoltaics. Our collaboration would be in making polylactic acid, which seems to be technologically challenging but not impossible on a small scale. I'm wrapping up some labwork for the week and will be working on the wiki development this weekend.

Peace, Eric

Jun 28 Marcin Jakubowski

Please put him as a contact on the page - if he agrees to be on a Flash Mob team