Bioplastics developer Metabolix said Wednesday it will begin manufacturing its biodegradable bioplastic derived from corn sugar by the end of next year.
At the Pacific Growth Equities' Clean Technology and Industrial Conference in San Francisco, the Cambridge, Mass.-based company said it plans to sell the bioplastic to companies that will turn it into various consumer goods like makeup containers, bags and bottles.
Metabolix (NSDQ: MBLX), which debuted on the Nasdaq in November, has partnered with Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE: ADM) to build the factory, which will be able to produce 110 million pounds of bioplastic annually. ADM is supplying the corn syrup to make the bioplastic.
The companies aren't disclosing the capital expense of building the plant, but said they would split the profits evenly.
The bioplastic line, called Mirel, will include products ranging from hard and strong to soft and pliable, the company said.
The company claims its plastic biodegrades more easily and quickly than its competitors', breaking down in home compost bins, septic systems and oceans.
Plastic's lack of biodegradability has been an issue for some environmentalists, who have cautioned that even some bioplastics are not biodegradable.
"Products made from Mirel will biodegrade harmlessly back to nature, closing the carbon cycle," said Metabolix CEO Jay Kouba.
It also has developed a microbial technology that removes steps from the process of making bioplastic, making it simpler -- and potentially less costly -- to make, the company said.
Metabolix already has a pilot plant and is selling bioplastic from the factory to Target Corp., which in July began using the material to make gift cards.
But Metabolix and other companies working in the bioplastics industry still have a way to go if they want to steal any meaningful market share away from the petrochemical-plastics industry, which produces 350 billion pounds of plastic from petroleum products annually worldwide and is growing by more than 15 billion pounds each year.
While petroleum-based plastic goes for anywhere from 70 cents to $2 per pound, Kouba said Metabolix will sell Mirel at prices "north of" $2 per pound.
The company is not trying to be cost competitive with petroleum products for now, Kouba said. "We intend on selling our product for about three times the price of petroleum-based products," he said.
Kouba calls Mirel a specialty product and plans to sell to businesses such as natural cosmetic companies already targeting environmentally conscious customers.
But in the long-term, he said, the company is developing plastics from plants like switch grass in the hope it will reach prices that are "economically compatible" with petroleum-based products.
Metabolix isn't alone in trying to make bioplastics greener. Cargill makes a biodegradable corn-based bioplastic called NatureWorks.
And on Wednesday, startup Novomer said it raised $6.6 million for its biodegradable plastics from pollution (see Novomer Gets Cash for Turning Pollution Into Plastic).