Lots More Choices in PHA Biopolymers

One factor limiting growth of biopolymers has been relatively few sources of supply.

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One factor limiting growth of biopolymers has been relatively few sources of supply. That is changing with the arrival of two more domestic makers of PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) in competition with the pioneer in PHAs, Metabolix Inc., Cambridge, Mass.

One of the newcomers is Meredian, Inc., Bainbridge, Ga., which recently started up what’s said to be the largest PHA production facility in the world. At full production, the plant can produce about 600 million lb/yr. Meredian is using technology it acquired from Procter & Gamble in 2007. Its bacterial fermentation process utilizes renewable plant-derived oils. “We have spent the last three years confirming production systems and efficiencies while developing end-use applications with our strategic customer partners. We can compete with traditional petro-based plastics on price, based upon our cost-effective production systems,” says Blake Lindsey, president and cofounder. Meredian PHA is certified by third-party firms as meeting ASTM biodegradation requirements, including marine water conditions. Meredian also expects to receive food-contact approval and compost certification for its PHA.

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The other new name in PHA bioplastics is Newlight Technologies, Irvine, Calif., which has been in operation since 2003. The firm has kept a low profile while perfecting its patented production process and products, according to CEO and co-founder Mark Herrema. “We have been quiet until we could confirm that we could outcompete commodity plastics on price and performance,” he says. Herrema believes Newlight has attained that goal with the startup of its latest 100,000-lb/yr production facility, which replaces earlier-generation production units of similar capacity.

Herrema says its cost of production is significantly lower than for other PHAs and commodity plastics in general. Its unique production process does not use any plant-based oils, sugars, starches, or cellulose. Instead, it uses a proprietary “biocatalyst” derived from micro-organisms, which converts air mixed with greenhouse gases—methane and/or carbon dioxide—directly into plastic. This process is said to be “carbon negative,” in using up more atmospheric carbon than is released during production (including the energy for the process).

Through strategic alliances with major compounders, Newlight has developed rigid and flexible Airflex PHA grades (modified with additives) designed to replace oil-derived HDPE, LDPE, LLDPE, PP, HIPS, ABS, acrylic, and TPU. For example, Airflex 5M1 is an injection grade with notched Izod impact of 4.0 ft-lb/in. and 5.2% elongation. Herrema says its PHA offers significant cost savings vs. PE, PP, and other resins. Major OEMs are said to be developing furniture parts, food-storage containers, packaging films, and TPU-like materials using its resin. Newlight recently hired Jim Lunt as v.p. of product development. He was the first head of development for NatureWorks LLC, the leading PLA producer.

(229) 243-7075 • meredianpha.com
(888) 269-0489 • newlight.com

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