Thanks to their properties, fossil fuel-based plastics are widely used daily (for industrial, domestic and environmental applications). However, they are not biodegradable, and their end of life is the cause of one of the most dangerous pollution in the world. Plastic, if recovered, can be recycled or used to recover energy, but it is not possible to recover all the tons of waste produced, so some end up in landfills. Therefore all non-recycled and non-collected plastic can take up to a thousand years to degrade. So the scientific idea is to produce biodegradable plastic capable of replacing conventional plastics. One possible solution is the poly(3-Hydroxybutyrate) (PHB) of the polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) family. PHB is a biopolymer accumulated in intracellular granules, under unfavourable growth conditions, by many prokaryotes and can be extracted with eco-friendly solvents. In particular, the extraction phase consists of the disruption of the cells and the subsequent separation of the biopolymer from the non-biopolymeric material (non-PHB). Currently, solvent extraction is the most used method for PHB recovery because it guarantees a high recovery yield and keeps the characteristics of the extracted biopolymer almost unaltered.
In this study, the extraction of PHB with eco-friendly solvents was investigated. Simulations were carried out using 1,2-propylene carbonate as the solvent and acetone as the anti-solvent. Two process schemes were analyzed, without and with the recirculation of solvents (by distillation) and with two different types of biomass (wet and dry). The present work aims to study the final recovery yield in different operating conditions and the influence of PHB solubility on the process. The simulation results confirm the importance of solubility for optimizing the extraction process and underline the problem related to the lack of data in the literature.