Metabolix, Inc. has initiated a program to develop an advanced industrial oilseed crop to produce bioplastics. Oilseeds are the primary feedstock for the more than 250 million gallons of biodiesel produced annually in the United States and the co-production of bioplastics promises to improve the economics of this crop industry.
Industrial oilseeds represent the third crop system to which Metabolix is applying its patented technology. The company is also developing enhanced switchgrass, and sugarcane crops to co-produce bio-based and biodegradable plastic within the leaves and stems of these crops to more economically meet energy and bioplastic needs globally.
As part of the new oilseeds initiative, Metabolix has established strategic research collaboration with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, a not-for-profit research institute in St. Louis. Metabolix will assemble a team of scientists to establish a research and development presence in St. Louis.
The team will work closely with Danforth’s Principal Investigators Drs. Jan Jaworski, Edgar Cahoon and Joseph Jez. This collaboration is supported financially by a 2-year, $1.14 million grant from the Missouri Life Sciences Trust Fund to the Danforth Center.
Metabolix is now developing and commercializing Mirel bioplastics—PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates, chemically related to polyesters) plastics —through its Telles joint venture with Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM). The PHA plastics are produced using a fully biological fermentation process that converts agricultural raw materials such as corn sugar into a versatile range of plastics that offer durability in use but are compostable in both hot and cold compost and are bio-degraded even in the marine environment.
The first commercial scale Mirel production plant is being constructed adjacent to ADM’s wet corn mill in Clinton, Iowa. The plant is expected to begin operations in late 2008 and is designed to produce up to 110 million pounds of Mirel annually.
In September 2007, the US Department of Energy selected Metabolix’ Integrated Bio-Engineered Chemicals (IBEC) project for funding. The IBEC project will bio-engineer bacteria to produce a polymer precursor from fermentation sugars. Chemical processes will then be used to recover product with high purity exploiting the ease of separation and subsequently disassemble the polyester and convert it into a variety of four-carbon (C4) industrial chemicals. Today, C4 chemicals are produced almost entirely from fossil-based hydrocarbons. Global demand is estimated at 2.5 billion pounds annually, and growing at a rate of 4 to 5 percent a year. (Earlier post.)