Metabolix in green C4 partnership

Metabolix announced yesterday that it will form a joint development deal for its polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA)-based C4 chemicals — initially butanediol (BDO), tetrahydrofuran (THF), gamma butyrolactone (GBL) and polyester engineering resins (PBT) — with Korea-based industrial biotechnology company CJ CheilJedang.

The blog posted in March about Metabolix’s development in this area where the company said it was aiming to deliver product samples of its biobased C4s to potential customers before the end of the first quarter this year.

In its second quarter earnings report yesterday, Metabolix said it received favorable feedback on the biobased C4 samples provided to targeted customers. The company anticipates further sample shipments in the third quarter.

Under the non-exclusive joint development agreement, CJ will contribute fermentation assets and expertise to produce pilot quantities of dried whole fermentation broth containing raw C4 chemicals whole Metabolix will continue development of microbial strains and scale-up of its FAST recovery process — said to be a low-cost, energy-efficient technology that recovers high-purity renewable chems directly from dried whole fermentation broth — to produce the biobased C4.

The companies will also develop a detailed market and economic analysis as they assess investment options to commercialize the chemicals.CJ’s division, CJ BIO currently operates global-scale fermentation facilities in China, Indonesia and Brazil producing a range of amino acids and nucleotides.

Metabolix said the C4 processing technology will be ready for commercial plant design by the end of this year. The companies are looking to potentially integrate Metabolix’s processing technology into CJ’s existing fermentation sites as well as in possible new sites.

Speaking of earnings, Metabolix reported a net loss of $10m for the Q2 2011 compared to a net loss of $9.5m in Q1 although the company said it continues to have no long-term debt. Q2 revenue was $200,000 versus $100,000 in Q2 last year.

In its bioplastic joint venture, Telles, with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Metabolix noted that its Mirel PHA-based bioplastic continues to expand in both Europe and the US primarily in the film and bag markets. Telles just announced on Tuesday that it has partnered with Sweden-based Tenova Bioplastics to launch new commercial line of biobased film solutions across Europe using Mirel P5001, a compostable, bio-based film grade resin for compostable bags and packaging.

Telles also announced its partnership with US-based Cortec Corporation for a new line of film products using Mirel P5001 film grade resin. Cortex is said to be launching EcoOcean for marine biodegradable markets, and Eco Works AD, which is designed to meet demands of anaerobic digestion systems.

Cortec’s new biodegrable films will be available in more than 70 countries worldwide. Metabolix also noted during its earnings conference call that Telles has at least 50 active customers and that at least 15 of Telles’ trial customers are taking repeat orders of Mirel.

As for Metabolix’s C3 program (particularly bio-acrylics), the company said it is in early stage discussions with potential partners.


Speaking of PHA resins, US-based bio-resin manufacturer DaniMer Scientific reportedly begun production of PHA-based hot melt adhesives (said to be the first of its kind in the world) and plans to ramp up commercial volumes by October, according to an article from

DaniMer announced its plans at the Bioplastek 2011 conference in New York in late June. DaniMer and its sister company Meredian are said to be retrofitting an existing plant in Bainbridge, Georgia, for a pilot plant to produce 30m pounds/year of PHA resins. 

The pilot plant is expected to start next year and that Meredian is reportedly planning to construct a 200m lb/year PHA plant at the Bainbridge site as well by the fourth quarter of 2012. Meredian plans to have a PHA production capacity of 630m lbs/year in 2016.

Their target PHA price is $1/lb, according to the article, compared to the current $2.5/lb. One big difference about their PHA, according to Meredian, is that their feedstock is based on fatty acids and not sugar.

My colleague Andy Brice had a recent interview (ICIS subscription only) with Metabolix and the company pointed out that for its entry level products (especially biobased chemicals) to generate attractive returns, oil prices needed to be above $60-70/bbl, and $80-90/bbl for the larger-volume materials. The company said it is working aggressively to drive competitiveness at even lower oil prices.

No comments however on the Meredian PHA price points.

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