Exploring novel microalgae as bioplastic factories

Microalgae have the potential to provide efficient, environmentally friendly bioproduction processes. Can they help solve plastic pollution?

Project duration: March 2023 – February 2026 

A microscopy shot of microalgae, which show up green against a dark background.

By Valentina Hurtado McCormick.

The challenge

Plastic is a widespread pollutant, which takes decades or even centuries to degrade. Tens of millions of tons of plastic waste enter the environment each year, accumulating faster than it can be cleaned up.  

A key approach to ending plastic waste is to replace it with bio-based, biodegradable and environmentally friendly alternatives called bioplastics. This project investigates how algae can be used to make bioplastics.

Algae are easy to grow, and have the added benefit of fixing carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas.  

Our challenge is to identify microalgae and cyanobacteria which are robust and can best serve this purpose.  

Our response

We’re exploring different environments to find which microalgae are suited for making bioplastics. 

In particular, we’re examining microbes linked to waste environments, like wastewater treatment plants or mine voids. We anticipate microbes found in these challenging environments might have evolved biological survival tricks. These could allow them to outperform those algae already harboured in collections.  

Our research aims to characterise new algal microbes with advanced fitness for making bioplastics. This involves examining the cellular bioplastic production process, and how those processes could be improved.  

We are taking a circular economy approach, by exploring opportunities to couple the creation of bioplastics with other processes like wastewater treatment and mine bioremediation.  


This project aims to produce new baseline knowledge of uncharacterised microbes that could be used to produce bioplastics. In handling genetic materials, our team is taking a robust approach to meeting legal and ethical responsibilities.

Our researchers are also seeking to shed further light on what technologies are needed, the bioprocesses and metabolic pathways involved, and how adaptation to challenging environments alters the biology of different algae while at the same time increasing their biotechnological potential. 

Through this research, we offer new insights into algal biology and help to advance bioplastics as a solution for plastic waste.


Valentina Hurtado McCormick, Anna Kaksonen, Ka Yu Cheng, Anusuya Willis