Metabolix, ADM begin bioplastic production

By Lisa Gibson
Posted March 15, 2010, at 10:16 a.m. CST

Massachusetts-based bioscience company Metabolix Inc. and agri-giant Archer Daniels Midland Co. have begun producing Mirel bioplastic at their $300 million commercial facility in Clinton, Iowa, and expect to make initial deliveries to customers within the next month. Through their joint venture, the companies are working up to the plant's full production capacity of 110 million pounds per year, according to Metabolix.

Mirel is a family of biodegradable, biobased natural plastics made from plant-derived sugar. Through a microbial fermentation process, the base polymer Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) is produced within the microbial cells and harvested, according to Metabolix. The company has developed industrial strains of the cells, which can efficiently transform natural sugars into PHA. The recovered polymer is made into pellets to produce Mirel bioplastics products. Mirel resins will biodegrade in natural soil and water environments, along with home and industrial composting systems.

Target markets for Mirel include agriculture and horticulture agencies such as Ball Horticultural Co.; compost bag producers such as Heritage Plastics; marine and aquatic companies such as Bioverse; consumer product manufacturers such as Newell Rubbermaid; business equipment producers such as Labcon; and packaging companies, according to Metabolix. "We believe that these six segments represent over 2 billion pounds of initial addressable demand," said Metabolix CEO Richard Eno. "The market remains extremely robust for Mirel. We have over 3,000 leads for various applications of which we have selected a pipeline of about 100 prospects that are in various stages of product development with Mirel."

Metabolix and ADM continue to see significant demand for Mirel and are shifting their focus toward ramping up sales, implementing next-generation Mirel technology and exploring prospects for plant expansion, according to Eno. As production is in the vearly stage of commercialization, capacity utilization levels will remain relatively low for the next few quarters, according to Metabolix. It will increase as production processes are optimized and as demand increases through acquisition of new customers.