Company boosting output at pilot plants

Metabolix scales back biopolymer manufacturing plans

By Heidi Parsons contact

- Last updated on GMT

Metabolix's PHA biopolymer can be used to make packaging films.
Metabolix's PHA biopolymer can be used to make packaging films.

Related tags: Polylactic acid

Metabolix, which develops biopolymers for use in packaging and other applications, recently announced it is revising its manufacturing plans for 2015.

In the second half of 2014, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company conducted a manufacturing site assessment for intermediate scale biopolymer production at an existing contract manufacturing site. The assessment included an engineering study, capital plan, operating cost estimates and discussions with the site owner.

Given that assessment, timelines and other available information, Metabolix president and CEO Joseph Shaulson said his team has decided to defer making a commitment to contract manufacturing at the site.

Instead, Metabolix plans to significantly increase output of Mirel PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) biopolymers at its contracted pilot manufacturing facilities. The initial focus of this manufacturing plan will be production of the company's a-PHA biopolymer for use in ongoing development activities, according to a company news release.

Food-friendly

PHA can be used in a variety of applications, including food packaging.

“We have FDA clearance for direct food-contact applications,”​ Lynne Brum, VP, marketing and corporate communications, told FoodProductionDaily.

“Mirel a-PHA is used in packaging films, and we also have some customers creating injection-molded products for foodservice, such as plates, bowls, and utensils.”

Like PLA (polylactic acid), another biopolymer that may be more familiar to many in the food industry, PHA is biobased and compostable, Brum explained. (PLA has been marketed under the Ingeo brand by NatureWorks LLC since 2003. Today, NatureWorks is an independent company supported by investments from Cargill and PTT Global Chemical.)

On its own, PLA can be rather brittle as a polymer, Brum said.

“However, when PHA is added, it acts as a performance enhancer — it makes the PLA softer, yet stronger.”

“Metabolix has been doing a lot of work in this area,”​ she said. “PHA can be used at low loading percentages. Depending on the specific attributes a customer may want in the finished product, they can add between 5% and 20% PHA to PLA.”

Steady as she goes

The Mirel a-PHA material, along with existing inventory, is intended to support both market development and initial customer conversions as Metabolix continues to build its biopolymers business.

"We believe this is the right approach to biopolymer manufacturing at this time,"​ said Shaulson.

Management expects that the increased output from the company’s pilot facilities will require only a modest level of capital investment in 2015. That “extends the runway provided by the financing and restructuring we completed earlier this year as compared to the intermediate scale option we have been evaluating,”​ Shaulson said. 

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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