Metabolix’s PHA-based chems coming soon

I just finished my biochemicals article, which will be included in the National Petrochemical and Refineries Association (NPRA) supplement to be distributed on March 28 at their international meeting in San Antonio, Texas. 

The article focuses on the commercialization advancement of succinic acid, biobased 1,4 butanediol (BDO) and bio-acrylic acid. With Metabolix, I was actually surprised how advanced the company’s commercialization goals for their C4 chems focusing on the pyrrolidones and BDO segment of the market. Metabolix just announced its Q4 and full 2010 earnings yesterday.

The company tailors its polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) technology to produce a range of C2-C5 chemicals using a common fermentation and recovery process. Metabolix says it will first focus on C4s and C3s. Metabolix has already successfully scaled up the fermentation process for its gamma butyrolactone (GBL), and production of bio-BDO based on direct hydrogenation of GBL will follow, said CEO Rick Eno.

“Metabolix is aiming to deliver product samples to potential customers before the end of first quarter this year and we expect to meet this commitment.” – Eno

For the GBL market, the company estimates market size potential at $800m where most of the applications are in solvents and personal care. The company expects attractive returns from this market with crude oil priced at $60-70/bbl. Partnership discussions are already ongoing for this development, according to Metabolix.

For bio-BDO, a whopping $2.5bn market potential mostly going to engineering resins, fabrics and even for GBL is very attractive indeed! No wonder there are so many interests in the BDO sector especially now that prices are going up (according to ICIS). Traditional producers such as BASF and ISP just recently hiked their BDO prices.

I will put a separate post about the bio-BDO market in April based on some of my interviews with Metabolix, Genomatica, Myriant and BioAmber.

Back to Metabolix, the company said it has also already demonstrated proof of concept for C3 chemicals first targeting the $7bn acrylics and acrylates market. Other products the company is currently examining include maleic anhydride, n-butanol and polyurethane additives.

Metabolix noted that all of their chemical activities are outside of the Telles joint venture.

Speaking of Telles, the bioplastic business has been very busy this week with the following announcements:

  • Sustainable thermoplastic developer TECNARO GmbH is incorporating Mirel bioplastic into its Arboblend line of biodegradable thermoplastics. TECNARO customers are currently using Arboblend for a variety of products in the household and sporting goods markets. TECNARO’s new offering will combine Mirel with other biopolymers including lignin, starch, cellulose, organic additives, natural resins/waxes and natural reinforcing fibers.
  • Canadian film producer AL-PACK Enterprises will launch a new home and garden mulch filrm based on Mirel bioplastic.
  • Dutch supplier of home aquarium systems Reef Interests is launching a biodegradable product based on Mirel for managing waste generated in aquariums and marine environments. The product will be sold throughout the US, Europe, Russia, China, and other key markets.

Another news from Metabolix is the advancement of its research in producing PHA in non-food biomass crops. The company said its multi-gene expression technology has already resulted in PHA levels of up to 9% of the total plant weight in test tobacco crop. PHA levels of up to 17% were found in leaf tissue.

You can get more information on Telles and Metabolix’s activities in their recent presentation at the Jefferies Clean Technologies conference. If you also want to know more about the status of the PHA plastic market especially in packaging application, I shamelessly recommend reading my recent article about it at ICIS Chemical Business (it’s free access!!).

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