After a talent search that spanned the U.S., Canada and Western Australia, the winner of the 2008 sanofi-aventis International BioGENEius Challenge was announced this afternoon at the BIO International Convention: Mingjuan Zhang, 18, a senior at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Durham, N.C.
Ms. Zhang’s project was titled “Characterization of a Synthetic Microbial Pathway for the Production of Bioplastics.” Petroleum-made plastic has two serious downsides: Its cost is rising with that of oil, and it not biodegradable. Zhang is one of a number of researchers working towards developing bioplastics, plastics made using plants or microbes. These new plastics are biodegradable, have other desirable material properties. Unfortunately, though, even with rising petroleum costs, these plastics often remain uncompetitive. As Zhang’s report notes, the bioplastic PHA—which can be produced in bacteria—costs almost $6/kg to produce, versus 20¢/kg for the petroleum-based polypropylene.