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New technology makes bioplastics more feasible

Metabolix announced that in recently-completed greenhouse trials, switchgrass plants engineered using the company’s multi-gene expression technology produced significant amounts of PHA bioplastics in leaf tissues. This result demonstrates a possible means of maximizing the potential of biomass crops for bioplastics.

“Metabolix has been developing technology to produce PHA polymer in switchgrass for over seven years,” said Dr. Oliver Peoples, Chief Scientific Officer.  “This result validates the prospect for economic production of PHA polymer in switchgrass, and demonstrates for the first time an important tool for enhancing switchgrass for value-added performance as a bioenergy crop.”

Switchgrass is a native prairie grass that can be grown in abundance in the United States. It has been identified by the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture as a prime feedstock for producing next-generation bioproducts.

“A key corporate goal has been to develop value-added industrial crops such as oilseeds, sugarcane, and switchgrass,” said Richard Eno, President and CEO of Metabolix. “This proof of concept in switchgrass is an important milestone as we develop commercialization strategies for our plant science activities.” 

A detailed scientific paper on the technology, entitled “Production of polyhydroxybutyrate in switchgrass, a value-added co-product in an important lignocellulosic biomass crop” was recently accepted for publication in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

Using these and other technologies, Metabolix is developing a line of bioplastics that it will market under the brand name Mirel. The company is commercializing the product through a joint venture with Archer Daniels Midland Company, called Telles. The venture’s first commercial-scale Mirel plant is being built in Clinton, Iowa. It’s designed to produce up to 110 million pounds of the bioplastic per year.

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