Microorganisms capable of decomposing polyurethane (PU) and other plastics have the potential to be used in bio-recycling processes. In this study, 20 PU-degrading strains were isolated, including 11 bacteria and 9 fungi, using a synthesized poly(1,4-butylene adipate)-based PU (PBA-PU) as the screening substrate. Three PU substrates with increasing structure complexities were used for a thorough evaluation of microbial degradation capacity: Impranil® DLN-SD, PBA-PU film and PU foam waste. After 4 days, the best fungal PBA-PU degrader, Cladosporium sp. P7, could degrade 94.5% of Impranil® DLN-SD. After 28 days of cultivation, 32.42% and 43.91% of solid PBA-PU film was converted into soluble small molecules when used as the sole carbon source or in a medium with other co-carbon sources, respectively. Accordingly, the weight loss of PU foam waste after 15 days was 15.3% for the sole carbon condition and 83.83% for the co-carbon conditions. Furthermore, PBA-PU was used for metabolic pathway analysis because of its known composition and chemical structure. Six metabolites were identified during the degradation process of PBA-PU, including adipic acid (AA), 1,4-butanediol (BDO), and 4,4’-methylenedianiline (MDA), which can also be used as the sole carbon source to grow the fungal strain P7, resulting in the discovery of two MDA metabolites during the cultivation processes. Based on the presence of these eight metabolites, we hypothesized that PBA-PU is first depolymerized by the fungal strain P7 via ester and urethane bond hydrolysis, followed by intracellular metabolism and mineralization of the three monomers to CO2 and H2O.
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