“…the industry is becoming more sophisticated in the way theyre viewing end of life options for materials used in packaging applications.”
Today Bio-Based World News is in Massachusetts, USA, to learn more about advanced biomaterials company, Metabolix. Founded in 1992, it was formed to leverage the ability of natural systems to produce complex biopolymers from renewable resources and its emphasis iis ondelivering sustainable solutions to the plastics industry. The team are focused on a family of biopolymers found in nature called PHAs, which occur naturally in living organisms and are chemically similar to polyesters. And have core capabilities in microbial genetics, fermentation process engineering, chemical engineering, polymer science, plant genetics and botanical science, and have assembled these capabilities in a way allowing them to integrate biotechnology research with real world chemical engineering and industrial practice. Our Editor Luke Upton, caught up with Max Senechal, Vice President of Strategy and Commercial Development there to find out more about fulfilling potential, helping further adoption and much more
Luke Upton (LU): Thanks for the time today, as an introduction perhaps you give the readers a brief introduction to the company?
Max Senechal (MS): No problem Luke, Metabolix is an advanced biomaterials company with an extensive technology platform based around a family of naturally bio-based and biodegradable polymers called PHAs (polyhydroxyalkanoates). These specialty PHAs are made with unique chemistries that allow them to be used as multifunctional additives to improve performance and/or reduce costs in other material systems. Metabolix specialty biopolymers are used in a broad range of applications such as construction and packaging materials, as well as industrial, consumer and personal care products.
LU: Thanks, packaging is one of the key areas for the growth of bio-based deployment, how do your PHA biopolymers help fulfil this potential?
MS: Our amorphous PHA is playing a key role in enabling the development of new packaging options.Metabolix’s (@) amorphous PHA biopolymer material is bio-based and broadly biodegradable, and it can be used as a performance additive for PVC and PLA as well as in applications requiring functional biodegradation. Moreover, as a performance modifier for PLA packaging applications, Metabolix’s amorphous PHA is used to improve mechanical properties while maintaining high bio-based content and industrial compostability of the material.
There are several application areas where our amorphous PHA is being used including; clear packaging film, sheet extrusion and thermoformed packaging (see left), injection molded articles and barrier coatings for paper and cardboard.
LU: And in what other industries and why do you see significant space for growth?
MS: We are seeing significant potential for our amorphous PHA being used as a performance modifier for PVC as a multifunctional process aid and performance modifier. As a company, Metabolix has made important strides in this application space. For example, we see significant market potential for the use of PHA as a performance modifier in PVC in the development of flexible PVC film used in packaging applications.
Were also actively working on the technical development to support the expansion of a-PHA as a performance modifier for other emerging biopolymers as well. One example of that is PBS, the industry is working toward increasing the biocontent of PBS. We see that a-PHA compounded with PBS will add biocontent but still preserve or extend the biodegradation profile of the material. We are working to define the benefits that a-PHA can provide to PBS compounds.
LU: With, the use of alternative, bio-based solutions still relatively limited, how can we as an industry help further its adoption?
MS: Its been our experience that the current state of commercialized bioplastics can be compounded on standard plastics equipment, but it is necessary to follow the technical guidelines developed by the industry to preserve polymer integrity and performance. So, expanding experience in this area should play a role in driving wider adoption of the materials.
No single biopolymer does everything, but innovative solutions can be proposed by combining and compounding biopolymer resins to produce the functionality and product performance attributes to match the intended application. This area is very dynamic. We see the ability to combine biopolymers to improve function and to reduce cost/economics. This is an area where our specialty PHAs can play a role as they can be used with PLA to improve performance while maintaining bio-content and compostability. We also see a role for specialty PHAs for modifying conventional, biodegradable polymers such as PBS which I mentioned before.
LU: And just to finish, what most excites you about our industry?
MS: One of the most exciting areas is how advancing performance opens up even more application spaces for biopolymers. We are seeing that we can extend the performance envelop by combining polymers and evolving the profiles of these polymers. The vibrancy of the research into our amorphous PHA is an example of that is an example of that. We are excited at the new places we can go.
We also recognize that the industry is becoming more sophisticated in the way theyre viewing end of life options for materials used in packaging applications. We see an emphasis placed on recycling, because the infrastructure for recycling now allows the consumer to easily dispose of the material in the best manner. A result of this trend is an increased interest in bioplastic materials in applications where recycling is not a viable end of life solution. This is where the use and interest in bio-plastic materials that allow for biodegradation is most popular as a viable end of life option. And this presents an exciting opportunity for our specialty PHA materials, either alone or in combination with other bio-plastics.
LU: Great thanks for the time today.
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