NatureWorks has opened its new $1 million 8,300 square-foot laboratory at its Minnesota headquarter to commercialize a fermentation process for transforming methane into lactic acid, the building block of Ingeo™ biopolymer.
NatureWorks is hiring six scientists to staff the new facility.The methane to lactic acid research project began in 2013 as a joint effort between NatureWorks and Calysta Energy™, Menlo Park, Calif., to develop a fermentation biocatalyst. In 2014, laboratory-scale fermentation of lactic acid from methane utilizing a new biocatalyst was proven, and the United States Department of Energy awarded $2.5 million to the project.
NatureWorks aims to diversify its current starch/sugar feedstock, and with methane as feedstock, it could structurally lower the cost of producing Ingeo.
Based on the research collaboration between NatureWorks and Calysta, NatureWorks hopes to subsequently develop a 25,000 square-foot pilot plant in Minnesota by 2018 and hire an additional 15 employees. Within the next six years the company is looking at the possible construction of a $50 million demonstration project.
It’s conceivable that within the next decade NatureWorks will bring online the first global-scale methane to lactic acid fermentation facility.
There are several lactic acid news lately and I will post a more comprehensive analysis of PLA and lactic acid markets in Tecnon OrbiChem’s March Bio-Materials newsletter. The use of methane as feedstock could be a game-changer for the lactic acid industry (and not just for PLA use) especially in the US.
If you want to also hear more on the PLA market, it is not yet too late to register to attend the Innovation Takes Root conference hosted by NatureWorks which will be held on March 30-April 1 in Orlando.