Metabolix starts bioplastic plant (Q&A)

I’m trying to tie up my bisphenol-A article today for ICIS Chemical Business‘ March 29 issue and hopefully will have more time to blog.

Before my bioplastic article will come out on March 22, here’s an update from Metabolix about their bioplastic joint venture business, Telles, with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). The company announced it has already started operations of its new 110 million lbs/year polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA)-based resins plant in Clinton, Iowa. Construction of this plant has been ongoing for four years and start-up has been constantly delayed since its first announcement in May 2008.

According to Metabolix, capacity utilization levels at Clinton are still expected to remain relatively low for the next few quarters but it is expected to increase as production processes are optimized and as demand increases through acquisition of new customers.

Here are some of the highlights of the company’s bioplastic business update announced last Wednesday:

  • Metabolix anticipates initial commercial deliveries of their bioplastic Mirel to customers within the next month.
  • The Company continues to see significant demand for Mirel and are shifting focus towards the ramp up of sales, the implementation of next generation Mirel technology, and the prospects for a plant expansion.

  • The Company noted that it had responded to two sets of comments by the FDA and continues to be confident that it can satisfy the needs for any additional commentary and data that may be requested as this process continues. Metabolix anticipates FDA approval for food contact injection molding in Q2 and film and thermoforming food contact products in second half of the year.

Aside from bioplastics, Metabolix is also working to optimize its fermentation process for C4 chemicals as well as planning to look at producing C3 and C5 chemicals.

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Here’s a sample of my Q&A interview with Bob Findlen, vice president of sales and marketing for Telles. Watch out for my bioplastic article coming out on March 22 from ICIS Chemical Business!

Q: How did the company’s bioplastic business fare in 2009? What were the accomplishments and challenges the company faced last year?

Metabolix is pleased with the progress that was made in each of its bioplastics programs in 2009. We continued the strong move towards commercialization of the Mirel corn-fermentation process and reported positive results from the various plant science programs which are co-producing plastics and energy from non-food crops.

A few of the more notable accomplishments in the Telles (Metabolix, ADM joint venture) business include:

  • The availability of a new injection molding grade, Mirel P1003 and Mirel P-4001 sheet extrusion grade
  • The launch of several customer trials including the Paper Mate Biodegradable Pen, Bioverse and Pharmafilter

  • The company participated in their first NPE show in June which was viewed largely as a success – it helped maintain high level of interest and anticipation among customers of the coming commercial availability of Mirel
  • The company gained 3 significant certifications in 2009 – Vincotte Home Compostable and Industrial Composting and BPI Compostable
  • Telles opened their first international office in the Netherlands in October and announced a business development director for the European office

The major challenge within the Mirel business was in maintaining interest from brand owners for material samples while waiting for the new production facility in Clinton, IA to start up. The company currently has over 1000 leads for businesses interested in testing material.

Q: What milestones are you setting your sights on for the next 12 months?

Over the next year the chief task at hand is building production levels and efficiencies at the new Clinton, IA Mirel facility (the first commercial PHA facility). Telles will continue to focus on its sales pipeline and in furthering established relationships when we begin shipping product to customers, and also developing new opportunities with this increase in material, while building up global brand awareness.

In response to significant market need and customer demand we are increasing our development and production efforts within the film and compostable bag market. This has already been a focus application for the company, but it will be a higher priority through 2010.

We also plan to expanding our product grade portfolio into film, thermoforming and the foam market in 2010. With these grades and the grades already developed we look to sell Mirel in 2010 to validate the value proposition of Mirel and illustrate acceptance in the marketplace and at major brand owners.





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