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Chementator: A bioprocess to make natural plastic makes its commercial debut

By Chemical Engineering |

Archer Daniels Midland Co. (Decatur, Ill.; edlinks.com/5827-542) plans to build the world’s first commercial plant to produce PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates), which are high-performance plastics made from renewable resources, such as corn sugar. The plant, to be located at a major ADM site in North America, will have an initial capacity of 50,000 m.t./yr. The facility is a joint venture being established between ADM and Metabolix (Cambridge, Mass.; edlinks.chemengonline.com/5827-543). The two firms formed a strategic alliance in 2004 to commercialize the Metabolix proprietary PHA technology, which is covered by more than 130 issued and pending patents. The new polymers are made by an aerobic (proprietary) fermentation process, in which microorganisms (E. coli K12) convert natural sugars or oils into PHA. The organisms are modified, by metabolic engineering (incorporating genes for each step of a multi-step pathway), to produce the desired polymer. Metabolix has improved PHA fermentations so that they accumulate over 100g/L of PHA in 40 hours or less. At the end of a fermentation, the fermentation broth consists of water, salts, and cells filled with PHA (at up to 90% of their dry weight). PHA is a family of natural aliphatic polyesters…
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