Metabolix signed the collaborative agreement with Australia's Cooperative Research Centre for Sugar Industry Innovation through Biotechnology (CRC SIIB). Over the past five years packaging suppliers have been introducing various forms of biodegradable plastics made from a variety of plants, in the main corn, as a clean alternative to petroleum-based plastics. The market is growing based on projections that consumers and recycling regulations will drive demand for environmentally-friendly packaging. Some companies predict that the market will grow by about 20 per cent a year, as an alternativeto petroleum-based packaging such as the widely-used polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Oliver Peoples, Metabolix's chief scientific officer, said the work on the company's biodegradable product will be similar to that the company has already completed on producing natural plastics from switchgrass. While switchgrass is well suited for the North American climate, sugarcane will be ideal for more tropical climate zones, he said. "I believe demand for these types of products will increase as more environmentally-conscious companies and consumers look for ways to lessen negative impacts on the environment," he said. Founded in 1992, US-based Metabolix said it is now commercialising its first product, Mirel, a biodegradable natural plastics. Metabolix is also developing proprietary technology platforms to develop natural plastics, biofuels and chemicals from crops such as switchgrass and sugarcane.