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Issue 05/2018

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Report PHA from methane

Report PHA from methane and carbon dioxide Newlight Technologies on track with expansion plans By: Michael Thielen Due to the enhanced efforts Newlight Technologies (Huntington Beach, California, USA) is currently undertaking on their way of expansion production capacities, the sponsor of the recent 1 st PHA platform World Congress was not able to attend this event in Cologne, Germany. That is one reason why bioplastics MAGAZINE visited the company in their new production facility in California and spoke to co-founder and CEO Mark Herrema. Founded in 2003, Newlight spent about a decade developing and optimizing their greenhouse gas-tobioplastic conversion technology while during this period staying “under the radar” without any kind of external communication to focus on their growth. In 2013, as the company started to publicly discuss its work and potential implications, Newlight was awarded the first prize, “Biomaterial of the Year 2013“ by nova-Institute, Hürth, Germany. In 2003, the founders Mark Herrema and Kenton Kimmel started to develop a technology to convert greenhouse gas emissions into useful materials. They were armed with optimism, idealism, a healthy measure of self-confidence and the resolution to succeed. Ten years, ten patents and millions of dollars in research and development later, Mark Herrema told bioplastics MAGAZINE: “When we started, our goal, simply put, was to reverse climate change by using carbon emissions to produce materials on a global scale. Not only were we seeking a way to turn carbon emissions into plastics that actually removed more carbon from the air than they produced, we also knew that the only way we could do this on a commodity scale was if our material could out-compete on its own merits, without reference to environmental benefit” (bM 03/2013). The first important scientific breakthrough came with the development of their unique high yield biocatalyst, followed later with breakthroughs in a number of additional areas, such as polymer purification and functionalization. So in the years to follow, Newlight started to build up their first small commercial scale capacity. First customers to test products made with their PHA resins were Dell and Hewlett Packard with flexible bags followed by The Body Shop for cosmetic packaging, Virgin for smartphone cases, and quite a few more. Currently Newlight is operating eleven polymerization reactors in their new ~3,700 m² (40,000 sq ft) headquarters in California, in a brand-new building where they just moved in a few months ago. About half of the reactor lines are dedicated to producing PHA from methane mixed with air, and the other half of the lines use CO 2 mixed with air plus H2 from water. The new building complex has enough room for expanding by installing more modular production lines, which is currently in progress, along with larger expansion at another location. “One of our next big steps is to install 12 bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/18] Vol. 13

Report COMPEO a capacity of 23,000 tonnes per year in a different location,” says Mark Herrema, “We are working on this now.” And Newlight wants to expand quickly as the company has already signed three large volume, long term contracts, including a large volume signed contract on a take or pay basis. This means the customer has agreed to take all the material that Newlight can deliver. Being asked if Newlight would also license their technology, Mark confirmed that there are already some companies that will produce PHA under license agreements with Newlight. These clients are Ikea and Paques. The size of the biggest production volumes in such licensing contracts is currently over 450 tonnes (1 million pounds) per annum. Newlight not only focuses on producing PHA powder in their reactors but also compounding the resins into different bioplastic grades. Here, as well as in the fermentation processes, consistency is a very important factor, as Mark points out. “We really put great emphasis on the performance metrics and tight specifications”, he says. In terms of potential applications, the company puts a focus on durable applications such as furniture and home furnishings, including chairs or containers, for example. With view to the excellent biodegradability in almost all environments, another focus is on single use items. “We look at applications where the PHAs offer a clear advantage over other materials”. Confronted with the statement of other PHA producers that their materials would be available at about 1 dollar per pound, Mark says that of course their products have to be price competitive with not just other bioplastics but also commodity fossil fuel-based plastics, and that this has always been core principle of the company. At the end of the 1 st PHA platform World Congress many of the attendees agreed that a global PHAplatform Industry Association would be beneficial. Mark Herrema also agreed and added that they would support “everything that we can do together or as a company to accelerate the growth of PHAs in the market, given the breadth and importance of what they can do.” So - we’ll stay curious what is about to come in the next months. And you – our readers, stay tuned… ! Uniquely efficient. Incredibly versatile. Amazingly flexible. With its new COMPEO Kneader series, BUSS continues to offer continuous compounding solutions that set the standard for heat- and shear-sensitive applications, in all industries, including for biopolymers. • Moderate, uniform shear rates • Extremely low temperature profile • Efficient injection of liquid components • Precise temperature control • High filler loadings Leading compounding technology for heat- and shear-sensitive plastics bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/18] Vol. 13 13

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