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Support for University research on plastic deterioration, wall paintings restoration

Joe Gasan, chairman of the Gasan Foundation (sixth from left), presenting the sponsorships to University rector Prof. Alfred Vella (seventh from left), in the presence of Prof. Alex Torpiano, dean of the Faculty for the Built Environment (left), Prof. JoAnn Cassar (fourth from left), Sarah Carbonaro from the Gasan Foundation (fifth from left), Wilfred Kenely, CEO of the Research, Innovation and Development Trust (right), and other researchers involved in the projects.

Joe Gasan, chairman of the Gasan Foundation (sixth from left), presenting the sponsorships to University rector Prof. Alfred Vella (seventh from left), in the presence of Prof. Alex Torpiano, dean of the Faculty for the Built Environment (left), Prof. JoAnn Cassar (fourth from left), Sarah Carbonaro from the Gasan Foundation (fifth from left), Wilfred Kenely, CEO of the Research, Innovation and Development Trust (right), and other researchers involved in the projects.

The Gasan Foundation has awarded €61,000 to support two University of Malta research projects – €50,000 to part-finance the conservation of the Matteo Perez D’Aleccio wall paintings at the Grandmasters’ Palace in Valletta, and €11,000 to finance a study regarding the microbial deterioration of commercially used plastics in Malta.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is one of the most common plastics in use worldwide. Yet only 50 per cent of PET is recycled in the EU, while in the US the recycling rate is even lower at 30 per cent. In Malta, the rate is lower still, and a considerable amount of the PET is discarded.

Depending on the end use of the PET product concerned, small amounts of various additives are used during its manufacture to confer particular properties to the plastic. Both low- and high-density polyethylene plastics (LDPE, HPPE) are used commercially in Malta since these plastics are cheap and easily processed.

Different types of Polyethylene (PE) are derived from natural gas or crude oil under the right conditions of temperature, pressure and catalysis. Even though, in general, PET and PE plastics are considered resistant to breakdown in the natural environment, recently, a number of microbes have shown promise in degrading these polymers.

Microbes have shown promise in degrading these polymers

In this research project, which is being conducted by the Biology Department of the University’s Faculty of Science, special emphasis will be placed on PET plastic bottles and disposable PE plastic containers most commonly used in the Maltese islands. Several experiments will be conducted to compare the natural deterioration of PET and PE in the soil and marine environments to that carried out by particular microbes in vitro.

These studies will provide an indication of the steps involved in the natural bio deterioration of PET and PE plastics as well as the duration of the whole process in the natural environment.

Apart from gaining considerable insight into the deterioration processes of plastics that are disposed of inappropriately in the natural environment, these studies will also lead to the biotechnological application of microbial enzymes and bio surfactants for the accelerated deterioration of PE and PET plastics in the near future.

The second project regarding the conservation of the Matteo Perez D’Aleccio wall paintings at the Grandmasters’ Palace in Valletta, is being led by Prof. JoAnn Cassar from the Department of Conservation and Built Heritage of the University of Malta’s Faculty for the Built Environment.

The Gasan Foundation sponsorships were made through the University’s Research, Innovation and Development Trust (RIDT).

University rector Prof. Alfred Vella, who is also chairman of the RIDT, thanked Gasan Foundation for its contribution and expressed the hope that other organisations would follow its example and provide such much-needed support to sustain the University’s research activity. He added that since the setting up of the RIDT in 2011, the University has been seeing a steady flow of contributions from the corporate sector.

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