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Calysta Energy and NatureWorks partner on R&D to transform methane into the lactic acid building block for bioplastics

19 June 2013

Calysta Energy and NatureWorks have entered into an exclusive, multi-year collaboration to research and develop a practical production process for fermenting methane into lactic acid, the building block for Ingeo, lactide intermediates and polymers made from renewable materials.

If the collaboration results in the successful commercialization of this new technology, the cost to produce Ingeo would be structurally lowered, and the wide range of Ingeo based consumer and industrial products could be produced from an even broader set of carbon-based feedstocks, complementary to what is already in use by NatureWorks.

Currently, Ingeo relies on carbon from CO2 feedstock that has been fixed or sequestered through photosynthesis into simple plant sugars. NatureWorks’ flagship facility in Blair, Neb., uses industrially sourced corn starch, while its second facility currently in planning for a location in Southeast Asia will use cane sugar. In parallel with the collaboration, NatureWorks is continuing its broad technology assessment of “second generation” cellulosic sources of carbon. In the case of Southeast Asia, opportunities exist for harvesting cellulosic sugars from bagasse, an abundant lignocellulosic byproduct of sugarcane processing.

The research and development collaboration with Calysta Energy relates to NatureWorks’ strategic interests in feedstock diversification and a structurally simplified, lower cost Ingeo production platform. Calysta Energy is developing its BioGTC (biological gas-to-chemicals) platform for biological conversion of methane to high value chemicals, as well as a BioGTL platform for liquids.

Calysta Energy has applied its expertise in biological engineering along with core capabilities in DNA synthesis and directed evolution to enable development of metabolic pathways for the biotransformation of novel low-cost feedstocks into high value sustainable products. Calysta is particularly focused on developing enzymes and organisms capable of efficiently converting currently underused feedstocks to high value chemicals now produced from petroleum.

Methane is generated by the natural decomposition of plant materials and is a component of natural gas. Methane is also generated from society’s organic wastes and is produced from such activities as waste-water treatment, decomposition within landfills and anaerobic digestion. If successful, the technology could directly access carbon from any of these sources. Determining the feasibility of methane as a commercially viable feedstock for lactic acid may take up to five years, according to NatureWorks.

For NatureWorks, methane could be an additional feedstock several generations removed from simple plant sugars. The project will wrap up with an evaluation of potential sources of a methane feedstock for commercial scale production of lactic acid. The evaluation will include criteria such as purity, availability, price, location to customers, GHG sequestration potential and environmental and energy impacts. Feedstock diversification supports the organization’s goal of utilizing the most abundant, available and appropriate sources of carbon to produce Ingeo for the local geographic region served by a NatureWorks’ production facility.

The companies will share commercialization rights for select products developed under the agreement.

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