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Engineered Bacterium Pseudomonas Putida to Deconstruct PET Plastic

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

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Technology Marketing Summary

To date, chemical efforts to recycle polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the plastic known familiarly as polyester, have yielded poor economic viability to the simpler and cheaper option of production with virgin PET.  As a result, the world is experiencing a chronic buildup of plastic waste that wreaks havoc on ecosystems and will take centuries or longer to naturally break down.

Recently, however, the technological hurdle of biologically breaking down this plastic has become feasible with the promising discovery of a PET-degrading bacteria called Ideonella sakaiensis.  The bacteria use secreted enzymes known as PETase and MHETase to break PET down into MHET [mono(2-hydroxyethyl) terephthalic acid], BHET [bis(2-hydroxyethyl) terephthalic acid], and the commodity chemicals ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid (TPA).  The discovery yields significant opportunities for reuse and repurposing of these waste plastics to address global environmental waste accumulation.


By studying the biological processes of the bacterium Ideonella sakaiensis, NREL has developed the capability for a similar but more efficient biological degradation of PET with a genetically engineered strain of bacteria called Pseudomonas putida.  This new strain yields increased secretions of PETase and MHETase enzymes and enables a novel, highly-selective degradation of PET into the commodity monomer terephthalic acid (TPA).  Furthermore, the innovation in this engineered bacterium demonstrates tremendous potential for selective biodegradation of PET into other intermediates such as ß-ketoadipate or muconate and subsequent conversion to high strength composites.  These new capabilities in PET degradation compliment the innovative discoveries detailed in ROI 18-54 – Enzymatic Degradation of PET Plastic. 

  • Bio-based industrial plastic recycling and upcycling
  • Commodity chemical reproduction (EG and TPA)
  • Conversion of PET to novel, value-added monomer intermediates
  • Waste reduction
  • Environmental remediation
Applications and Industries
  • Plastic recycling
  • Waste treatment
  • Materials science and specialty products
  • Performance designed polymer design
Technology Status
Technology IDDevelopment StageAvailabilityPublishedLast Updated
ROI 18-76 PrototypeAvailable05/24/201805/24/2018

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To: Eric Payne<>