Newton Bhabha Industrial Waste: Bio-integrated Valorisation of India's Municipal Solid Waste to Renewable Feedstocks

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Chemistry


The project will develop the IB required to test the vision of an integrated, profitable, non-food sugar producing commercial
plant design which can adapt to different sources/compositions of Indian MSW segregated biowaste. The team will: assess
viable MSbioW; develop new pretreatment technology; high activity, tolerant and cost effective oxidative and hydrolytic
enzymes specific for high ligno-cellulosic waste; a more productive process; the use of non-chemical waste for biochar and
AD; ensure plant control and integration; economic viability and representative sugar test samples by building a pilot plant
at ICT. The key to a viable, sustainable operation in India is maximising the economic production of non-food sugar that is
increasingly demanded in sustainable biodegradable high-value products. The project brings together for the first time
strong capabilities at main partners LEEDS and ICT, along with specific and crucial industry input. The socio- technoeconomic
outcomes will develop society, wealth and environmental improvement in India with potential impacts upon DAC
countries and the UK. Based on detailed market research existing MSW processes struggle for profitability because they
are based solely on energy generation. The project will develop a flexible MSbioW process to maximise non-food sugar
production used in increasingly demanded sustainable, biodegradable products. The team are drawn from recognised
experts at LEEDS and ICT who have not had the opportunity to work together before, but through this project could provide
a powerful force in this area. Industry and academic partners in the UK and India have been brought into the project to fill
specific gaps in expertise. The project builds on and uses expertise at partner FIBERIGHT, and their collaborative work
with LEEDS on sugar production from MSbioW in the US and UK. Studies have shown high-levels of indigestible ligno-
(hemi)cellulosic material in Indian waste (paper, textiles, agriculture) whose breakdown is required to ensure economic
sugar, rather than use for energy. A key aspect is the development of more active oxidative cellulose/cellobiose/lignin/polyesterase digesting enzymes that can contribute to, and improve the existing commercial
mixed enzyme product, that will be used as a starting point. The ability to use MSW different sources will be managed by a
plant design adaptive at several points in the process: analysis of the variability of source MSbioW; adjustment of new
hydrothermal or microwave pre-treatment; tailoring the mix of oxidative, hydrolytic enzymes developed specifically for more
efficient breakdown of recalcitrant Indian waste; developing the batch or continuous flow bioprocess to maximise sugar
production; directing non-sugar waste streams to either hydrothermal carbonisation (HTC) or anaerobic digestion (AD). A
focus across each work package is to ensure viable economics of this non-food sugar production to compete with current
use of food sugar in non-food markets. Studies will be directed towards the construction of a pilot plant in ICT Mumbai able
to generate representative test samples, and data to build a model of the economics of full-scale plant operation to
convince investors. A profitable process will encourage implementation leading to employment, changes in waste collection
behaviour, environmental improvement and consequent societal benefits. The non-food sugar can be used in high value
commercial products such as sustainable biodegradable binders in: building sector (MDF, Glass Wool); polymers (eg.
FDCA-based, PLA, PHBV polyesters), pharmaceuticals ((R)-3-HB in statins, antivirals, anti-diabetes). The project furthers
ODA aims by: creating wealth through 100-1000s jobs and 10s of new £100m MSW businesses; social impact by
influencing changes in practice for MSbioW segregation and collection affecting positively low-paid waste workers;
reducing environmental municipal waste burden.

Planned Impact

The project is designed from the outset to be interdisciplinary and have considerable impact in addressing the development
needs for the 62Mtpa of MSW from Indian cities which is currently largely mismanaged. It proposes research innovation in
both techno- socio- economic dimensions which will promote a step change in collection, separation and processing of
MSW in India. The development of new pathways for the production of chemical feedstocks such as non-food sugars from
waste will develop new supply chains and revenue streams which will provide the economic incentive to improve collection
and separation of MSW. This in turn will result in a cleaner environment, improved health, employment opportunities and
development of new sustainable routes for the production of biomaterials such as biodegradable bioplastics and
sustainable building materials. Environmental impacts are associated with changing current practice. MSW would normally
be landfilled resulting in large GHG emissions during decomposition; the separation and subsequent extraction of cellulosic
material for conversion to desired chemicals would reduce GHG emissions; sequester CO2; develop opportunities for
treatment of other waste streams (e.g. recovery and conversion of plastic wastes, recovery of metals). Exploitable outputs
(i) An integrated and economically viable process and plant design for converting MSW to chemicals/energy in India;
Design right protection of integrated plant with novel aspects patented. (ii)License of designs for MSW to chemical+energy
plants in India and elsewhere; Route to market for the license of the plant design and process involves the industry
collaborators: FIBERIGHT who have prior expertise in commercialising plants in the US; AMT who have expertise in
producing and installing commercial microwave plants; DEFIANT Renewables who have expertise to make and install
plants. (iii) Service to take segregated bio-waste; Indian partners will exploit connections with local waste suppliers to
establish the viability of changing business practice to support reconfiguration of local MSW to segregate directly bio-waste
to exploit value for chemicals and energy. (iv) Samples of sugar and organic acid solutions for testing in varied market
applications with UK, Indian and other companies; Biocoal and methane commercial test samples; Route to market for
sugar is to provide test samples to suppliers in different markets assisted by partners AMIT. (v) Commercial services to test
different wastes in Indian pilot plant; Different wastes can be tested under contract using Indian partner knowledge of local
waste organisations. (vi) India bio-waste specific, high performance enzyme/microbe product; Improved enzyme mixes can
be used by new plants built on this project's design and, with evidence of performance, sold to global MSW bio-waste
plants. (vii) License of IP on new ligno-cellulosic enzymes and processes; New enzymes and formulated mixes will be
patent protected and provides either a new business opportunity or can be licensed to existing enzyme suppliers such as
Novozymes, Biogen or Krebs. (viii) New applications for industrial microwave and hydrothermal carbonisation technology
leading ultimately to sale of equipment The route to market for successful application of the microwave reactor is through
partner AMT, whilst DEFIANT Renewables will exploit the opportunity for HCT plant sales. Despite the research being fully
customized to the Indian socioeconomic conditions, the underlying science and engineering are potentially widely transferable to other DAC countries with similar or higher level of technological development, because they all face similar
challenges and opportunities regarding managing their solid waste and recovering high value secondary resources from
them (i.e. over 80 Countries and Territories of lower- or upper-middle income featured on the DAC list).


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Description GCRF
Amount £2,000,000 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/S011439/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 01/2022
Description Open Innovation
Amount £805,830 (GBP)
Funding ID IUK 104391 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 07/2020