Metabolix today produces a broad family of these bioplastics through the fermentation of plant sugars and oils using microbial biofactories. These materials range in properties from stiff thermoplastics suitable for molded goods, to highly elastic grades, to grades suitable for adhesives and coatings. In some cases, Metabolix bioplastics offer combinations of properties not available in synthetic materials. For example, the combination of excellent water resistance with biodegradability allows flushable personal hygiene products and wet wipes. In the future, Metabolix bioplastics will be produced directly in plants, making them cost-competitive with even general purpose resins such as polyethylene, and environmentally friendly alternatives to over half of the plastics used today.
The last 50 years have been marked by the astounding growth in the use of plastics and polymers to provide packaging for safer foods, lighter weight and longer lasting appliances, safer cars, and an increased general level of convenience in all manner of applications.
Yet the vast majority of these materials are based upon the extraction and processing of fossil carbon, typically oil and gas, leading ultimately to increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the accumulation of persistent plastic materials in the environment. Alternative materials based on natural, sustainable resources that would have less of an impact on the environment have suffered from the deficiencies of poor properties and higher costs and have generally not been acceptable. Metabolix’s bioplastics combine, for the first time, the ruggedness and versatility of synthetic plastics with the sustainability and environmental friendliness of naturally derived materials.
Metabolix’s objective is to build on the successes of biotechnology in improving human health and nutrition by using biotechnology to develop a versatile, environmentally sustainable alternative to the synthetic materials now so essential to our quality of life.