Natureworks launches lab to develop methane to lactic acid process
The new $1 million 8,000 square foot facility in Minnetonka, Minnesota, has been built alongside its headquarters and is the latest stage in the company’s multi-level program to commercialize the fermentation process for transforming methane into lactic acid.
The reason why this lactic acid is important is because it forms an eco-friendly and integral part of Ingeo biopolymer, which is principally made from dextrose derived from cellulosic raw materials and agricultural waste.
A project three years in the making
The new facility will employ a team of six scientists who will be overseeing the research project to convert methane to lactic acid, which started as a co-operative project with California based Calysta Energy back in 2013 to develop a fermentation biocatalyst.
The project was given a major boost in 2014 when the laboratory-scale fermentation of lactic acid from methane ultilizing a biocatalyst was proven, leading to a $2.5 million award from the US Department of Energy, to further fund the project.
“A commercially viable methane to lactic acid conversion technology would be revolutionary,” said Bill Suehr, NatureWorks Chief Operating Officer.
“It diversifies NatureWorks away from the current reliance on agricultural feedstocks, and with methane as feedstock, it could structurally lower the cost of producing Ingeo.”
Broad applications and costs savings
Besides being cost-effective, the resulting material is also very eco-friendly and has a very broad spectrum of applications, that touches on both finished goods and packaging.
“It is exciting to envision a future where greenhouse gas is transformed into Ingeo-based compostable food serviceware, personal care items such as wipes and diapers, durable products such as computer cases and toys, films for wrapping fresh produce, filament for 3D printers, deli packaging, and more,” said Suehr.
Ultimately the collaboration work between Natureworks and Calysta is aiming to develop a 25,000 square-foot pilot plant in Minnesota by 2018 and hire an additional 15 employees.