Barely a month after ADM pulled out of the Telles joint venture, Cargill announced it is looking to add a bioplastics compound to its portfolio. The company’s NatureWorks PLA-based bioplastic subsidiary—itself plagued by the slow adoption rates, pricey application development efforts, and a revolving door of equity partners—annonuced today it has formed a joint venture with succinic acid maker BioAmber to develop and manufacture compounded resins made from PLA and polybutylene succinate (PBS).
The scope of the investment was not disclosed or even alluded to, and it is likely far less than the $300 million spent to build its Blair, NE PLA plant and the $500 million reportedly spent on application development. So while it’s probably not accurate to say the company is doubling down in bioplastics, it’s encouraging to see them not only forge ahead with PLA but invest to broaden their product range.
Of course, an $150 million equity investment from PTT Chemical, an affiliate of PTT Group with a pre-existing relationship with BioAmber and a drive toward PBS (a biodegradeable polymer made from succinic acid and 1,4-butanediol, or BDO) probably helped. Cargill announced last year that PTT Chemical would become its latest partner in NatureWorks (following earlier exits by Dow Chemical and Teijin). The deal, which would give PTT Chemical a 50% stake in NatureWorks, is still pending regulatory clearance.
BioAmber was previously chosen to supply succinic acid to a PBS production site at Map Pha Tut planned by PTT MCC Biochem (Bangkok)’s a PTT Group/Mitsubishi Chemical jv. The PBS plant is expected to be commissioned by 2014. BioAmber also plans on adding capacity to convert succinic acid to BDO using technology licensed exclusively from DuPont. BioAmber also had a pre-existing relationship with Cargill; the two have been collaborating to develop a next-generation yeast that will lower production costs and capex, boost succinic acid yields, and enable the use of ligno-cellulosic sugars.
Speaking of bioplastics, I should have more information about Metabolix’s strategic direction following news ADM was pulling out of Telles. Metabolix CEO Rick Eno will be speaking at Jefferies Global Clean Technology Conference next week.