Biodegrade in Iowa

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Metabolix has signed an agreement with Australia's CRC SIIB to research and develop natural plastics from sugarcane.

Metabolix has signed a collaborative agreement with Australia's Cooperative Research Centre for Sugar Industry Innovation through Biotechnology (CRC SIIB) to research and develop natural plastics from sugarcane.

'Sugarcane is currently the premier biomass crop for biofuels, and we believe it can be developed to produce an advanced biorefinery feedstock for the production of natural plastics, fuels and chemicals. While switchgrass is well suited for the North American climate, sugarcane will be ideal for more tropical climate zones,' said Oliver Peoples, Chief Scientific Officer of Metabolix.

Last month, the company announced that it had joined forces with ADM to jointly produce Mirel - a family of natural plastics that are biobased, sustainable and completely biodegradable.

Metabolix and ADM plan to commercialise Mirel through their joint venture, Telles, named for the Roman goddess of the Earth. Telles is now building its first commercial scale plant in Clinton, Iowa. This plant is expected to start up in 2008 and will produce Mirel at an annual rate of 110 million pounds.

More than 350 billion pounds of plastic is produced each year and nearly 10 percent of total US oil consumption - about two million barrels a day - is used to make plastic each year. Its manufacture contributes to the world's growing dependence on oil and greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, plastics significantly impact the global ecosystem since they do not biodegrade in soil, landfills, rivers or oceans.

Mirel can be used as an alternative to petroleum-based plastic in a wide variety of conversion processes, including injection molding, paper coating, cast film and sheet, blown film, and thermoforming.

Metabolix says that it is currently working with more than 40 prospective customers on more than 60 applications, including consumer products, packaging, single use disposables, and products used in agriculture and erosion control.