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Biotech experiment in renewable plastics

US biotechnology specialist Metabolix has announced a two year joint development programme with Innovene, BP’s new olefins and derivatives spin-off, to develop “renewable” and biodegradable plastics for potential use in applications including packaging.

Metabolix claims to have already proven the economics of producing polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) via fermentation of plant-derived sugars and oils, whose properties can be tailored for use in applications ranging from strong, mouldable thermoplastics to highly elastic materials. In the project with BP, however, it will develop grass crops containing high levels of naturally grown polymers which can subsequently be used to produce high performing biodegrading plastic materials for use in anything from packaging to electronics.

Metabolix president and ceo Jim Barber elaborates: “In essence we will be adding enzymes to the plants’ naturally-occurring sugars and oils to cost-effectively create high performance polymers. Our r&d suggests these materials could be used in packaging processes including injection moulding, blowmoulding and cast and blown film production.”