Algae coming soon in resins

Major green chemical news were being announced this week while I’m gone…of course.

Elevance and Myriant both send me a press release on Wednesday, which I’ll soon post. Metabolix have two major announcements on their bioplastics; Cargill continues in its biobased industrial chemicals development this time in pulp and paper applications; and for this particular post, an interesting development in the use of algae for industrial chemicals application.

Bioplastic manufacturer Cereplast said this week that they plan to launch a new family of algae-based resins that could hit the market by 2010. The company said it will target the hybrids at the polyolefins market, mainly polypropylene and polyethylene. Cereplast is currently using feedstock such as starches from corn, tapioca, wheat and potatoes and Ingeo PLA for their bioplastic.

“We are still in the development phase, but we believe that this breakthrough technology could result in a significant new line of business in the years to come,” said Frederic Scheer, Founder, Chairman and CEO.

The company said they already have direct communication with potential chemical conversion companies that could convert the algae biomass into viable monomers for further conversion into potential biopolymers.

By the way, algae was also a hot topic at the ICIS oleochemicals conference in Berlin that I attended this week. One company remarked that algae will probably be developed more in specialty chemicals than to be used as biofuel feedstock. That might be the case if we see more like that of Cereplast’s announcement.

Consultant Neil Burns of US-based Neil A. Burns LLC noted in his presentation that several algae developer are already filing patents on algae-based specialty chemical products. Solazyme is one example, he said. The company filed last year a patent on algae-derived polysaccharides that can be potentially applied as an anti-aging skin care ingredient.

A recent article from Popular Mechanics, by the way, listed down the top five algae developers in the biofuel arena that include Solazyme. Wall Street Journal also wrote an article indicating algae as one of the most promising next generation biofuel feedstock.

Here are more recent updates on algae developments:

[First photo from GreenInc blog, second photo from Sapphire Energy]

One Response to Algae coming soon in resins

  1. Green Underworld 27 October, 2009 at 9:04 am #

    This observer wishes each and all of these efforts the best of luck, but the optimistic language generated by the public relations officers may be a threat to real progress in green chemistry.

    Monomers to make polymers are among the least likely class of chemicals to come from algal biomass. The petrochemical building blocks of plastics (ethylene, propylene) are cheap, and that is something that no algae producer can claim for its products as yet.

    This observer notes that while the efficiency of these secret algae methods is undisclosed, their maximum potential is limited by sunlight and the laws of thermodynamics. Some entrepreneurs have made claims for yields that flout these facts, so unrealistic assumptions about alage are in the wild, and may contaminate the industry with a bad reputation. The good may suffer along with the bad.

    In short, improvements in methods may bring algae producers closer to best-case scenarios, but the goal is not near.

    In an article in Nature Biotechnology (, Emily Waltz gives a balanced review of the limited gains made so far in coaxing algae to produce fuel chemicals for commodity use. The article notes that higher-value specialty products may be a more viable target in the short term.


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