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Turning industrial waste into something the world actually needs

Crystal Theodore

Undergraduate in Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering

Chrystal Theodore tells how her team found the largest solid-waste stream produced by paper recycling facilities could be diverted from the landfill and turned into valuable chemicals, such as the Tamiflu vaccine, flavours, fragrances and plastics.

What if I told you that the largest solid-waste stream produced by paper recycling facilities could be diverted away from landfill and turned into valuable chemicals? 

My team’s research at the University of Alberta led to the creation of a groundbreaking new process that will do just that. 

Our approach is relatively straightforward: Waste paper is a rich source of cellulose, a food source for a type of bacteria. We insert a metabolic pathway into the bacteria, enabling it to convert the cellulose to glucose and then convert the glucose into different high-value specialty compounds. 

This allowed us to create an inexpensive and green source of high-demand aromatic compounds that can be used in the manufacturing of a variety of products, including pharmaceuticals such as the Tamiflu vaccine, flavours, fragrances and plastics, all from something currently considered waste. 

Thanks to a highly innovative, interdisciplinary team at the University of Alberta, we are turning the scourge of landfill waste into something beneficial.

Learn about UAlberta energy research
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