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05 | 2008

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Non-Food possible to

Non-Food possible to produce bioplastics directly within biomass energy crops such as switchgrass. In August the company announced a promising development in its research of these biomass crops, validating its business model to co-produce both bioenergy and bioplastic from a single biomass source - switchgrass. Switchgrass, commonly known as prairie grass, is a naturally abundant crop, capable of growing throughout much of the U.S. and Europe. Dense growth, multiple harvests and versatile growing conditions have previously made the grass a highly attractive resource for the production of biofuels, namely cellulosic ethanol. The co-production of high-value bioplastics within this bioenergy crop was seen as a key driver in the economics of the system. The U.S. Department of Energy saw the value and awarded Metabolix .4 million in 2001 for their research. Although the company concedes that commercial-scale production of plastic inside switchgrass is still a number of years away, the results of their research show proof that such a concept is in fact viable. Switchgrass Lab and greenhouse trials by Metabolix have resulted in a yield of 3.72% dry weight PHB in the leaves and 1.23% dry weight in the switchgrass plant as a whole. Researchers aim to yield about 7.5% dry weight from the plant, a benchmark that would be economical for full scale commercial production. “To understand the economics of this initiative, we’ve calculated that at just a 3% plastic yield, the amount of switchgrass that would be used to produce 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol would also yield 100 million pounds of PHA bioplastic,” said Oliver Peoples, Ph.D., co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Metabolix. A detailed scientific paper on the technology, titled ‘Production of polyhydroxybutyrate in switchgrass, a valueadded coproduct in an important lignocellulosic biomass crop,’ was recently published in Plant Biotechnology Journal. Beyond switchgrass, Metabolix has also announced ongoing research in developing bioplastics inside sugarcane and oilseed crops. Stained switchgrass leaf Metabolix PHA bioplastic from switchgrass will expand the platform of their Mirel corn-based bioplastic. PHA from switchgrass could provide tremendous volume potential, and could also be blended with Mirel for some applications. “The goal of our research was to successfully execute the first multi-gene expression pathway in switchgrass which would allow for the co-production of bioplastic directly within the biomass crop, significantly increasing the economics while demonstrating that we can engineer other characteristics of the crop as well,” said Kristi Snell, Ph.D., Director of Plant Science at Metabolix. “We are pleased with the progress that has been made in this short amount of time and we feel that large scale commercial viability will be attainable in the near future.” www.metabolix.com bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/08] Vol. 3 37

Non-Food Sustainable “Zoom-Zoom” with Non-Food-Based Bioplastic (Photo: Mazda) Japanese Mazda Motor Corporation will launch the “Mazda Bioplastic Project” together with Hiroshima University (see bM 04/08). The non-food based bioplastic will be made from cellulosic biomass produced from inedible vegetation such as plant waste and wood shavings. Seita Kanai, Mazda’s director and senior executive officer in charge of R&D, said, “Development of a non-food-based bioplastic made from sustainable plant resources has great potential in the fight against global warming, and can help allay global food supply concerns. Mazda is pleased to join forces with our regional partners as we work toward systematically combining various biomass technologies. Through this cooperation, we intend to strengthen Hiroshima’s position as a center for biomass research, and develop technology that can be used throughout the world.” Mazda’s previous research on biomass technology resulted in the world’s first high heat-resistant, high-strength bioplastic and the world’s first 100 percent plant-derived fabric for use in car seats. These two biomaterials are used in the interior of the Mazda Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid. Powered by Mazda’s hydrogen rotary engine mated to a hybrid system, the Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid is scheduled to start commercial leasing in Japan this year (see bM 02/08). Mazda began joint activities with the research department at Hiroshima University’s Graduate School of Engineering in 2005. This partnership’s comprehensive agreement on joint automotive technology research includes biomass technology. Going forward, Mazda plans to expand the collaborative research on biomass technologies and strengthen its relationship with Hiroshima University for multidisciplinary joint research. Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) will also participate in the bioplastic project as part of its ongoing agreement to collaborate on biomass research with Hiroshima University. In March 2007, Mazda announced its long-term vision for technology development, ‘Sustainable Zoom-Zoom’. This vision sets out Mazda’s commitment to advance safety and environmental technologies, which include biomass-related research, with the aim of realizing a sustainable society. www.mazda.com 38 bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/08] Vol. 3

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