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Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge: 2004 Greener Reaction Conditions Award

Buckman Laboratories International, Inc.


Optimyze®: A New Enzyme Technology to Improve Paper Recycling


Innovation and Benefits: Paper mills traditionally use hazardous solvents, such as mineral spirits, to remove sticky contaminants (stickies) from machinery. Optimyze® technology uses a novel enzyme to remove stickies from paper products prior to recycling, increasing the percentage of paper that can be recycled. Each paper mill that switches to Optimyze® can reduce its hazardous solvent use by 200 gallons daily, reduce its chemical use by approximately 600,000 pounds yearly, increase its production by more than 6 percent, and save up to $1 million per year.

Summary of Technology: Recycling paper products is an important part of maintaining our environment. Although produced from renewable resources, paper is a major contributor to landfilled waste. Paper can be recycled numerous times, and much progress has been made: about one-half of the paper and paperboard currently used in the United States is collected and reused. Some papers, however, contain adhesives, coatings, plastics, and other materials that form sticky contaminants, creating serious problems during the paper recycling process. These contaminants, called "stickies" by the paper industry, can produce spots and holes in paper goods made from recycled materials, ruining their appearance and lowering their quality.

Stickies also waste significant manufacturing resources when production must stop to clean the equipment. One source estimates the cost to the industry from production downtime alone to be more than $500 million annually. Further, this cleaning is traditionally done with chemical solvents, typically mineral spirits, which can have health and safety problems, are obtained from nonrenewable, petroleum resources, and are not readily recycled. These solvents are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to air pollution. As a result, some paper grades cannot be recycled into reusable products.

Optimyze® technology from Buckman Laboratories is a completely new way to control the problems associated with stickies. It uses a novel enzyme to eliminate common problems in the manufacture of paper from recycled papers. A major component of the sticky contaminants in paper is poly(vinyl acetate) and similar materials. Optimyze® contains an esterase enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of this type of polymer to poly(vinyl alcohol), which is not sticky and is water-soluble. A bacterial species produces large amounts of the Optimyze® enzyme by fermentation. As a protein, the enzyme is completely biodegradable, much less toxic than alternatives, and much safer. Only renewable resources are required to manufacture Optimyze®.

Optimyze® has been commercially available since May 2002. In that short time, more than 40 paper mills have converted to Optimyze® for manufacturing paper goods from recycled papers. In one U.S. mill, conversion to Optimyze® reduced solvent use by 200 gallons per day and chemical use by about 600,000 pounds per year. Production increased by more than 6 percent, which amounted to a $1 million benefit per year for this mill alone.

This new enzyme technology has improved production of a broad range of paper products, including tissue, paper toweling, corrugated cartons, and many other materials. It improves the quality and efficiency of papermaking, dramatically reducing downtime to clean equipment. As a result, more paper is being recycled and grades of paper that were not recyclable earlier are now being recycled. Paper mills adopting Optimyze® have been able to greatly reduce the use of hazardous solvents.

In summary, Optimyze® makes it possible to recycle more grades of paper, allows more efficient processing of recycled papers, and produces higher-quality paper goods from recycled materials. The Optimyze® technology comes from renewable resources, is safe to use, and is itself completely recyclable.

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