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NatureWorks, Calysta Team To Develop Process To Ferment Methane Into Lactic Acid

Minnetonka, Minn.-based NatureWorks LLC — developer of Ingeo™ lactides and biopolymers derived from 100-percent annually renewable resources including agricultural feedstocks — and Menlo Park, Calif.-based Calysta Energy Inc. — developer of a methane-based biological gas-to-liquids™ (BioGTL™) and biological gas-to-chemicals™ (BioGTC™) technology — have announced a collaboration to research and develop a production process for fermenting methane into lactic acid, which is used for the production of Ingeo, lactide intermediates and biopolymers. The companies anticipate that the successful commercialization of such a process could broaden and complement the range of carbon-based feedstocks currently used in Ingeo production and result in reduced Ingeo production costs.

Methane, a component of natural gas, also is generated by the decomposition of plant materials and in landfills, organic waste, anaerobic digestion and activities such as wastewater treatment. In comparative terms, its impact on climate change is reportedly more than 20 times that of carbon dioxide.

"If proven through this R&D collaboration, the new technology could be revolutionary because it will provide alternatives to the current reliance on agricultural feedstocks, and with the direct conversion of methane, it will greatly simplify the number of steps and operations needed to convert carbon into performance consumer products," said Marc Verbruggen, president and CEO, NatureWorks. "This could structurally lower the cost of producing Ingeo."

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Ingeo currently is produced from "first-generation" simple plant sugars such as cornstarch or cane sugar. NatureWorks is also looking into the use of "second-generation" cellulosic sources such as bagasse, a byproduct of sugarcane processing. In addition, it is interested in further diversifying the Ingeo feedstocks as well as simplifying Ingeo production and lowering its cost. Calysta's BioGTC platform could enable NatureWorks to utilize methane as a feedstock that it notes is "several generations removed" from the first-generation feedstocks. According to NatureWorks, diversification of feedstocks would enable it to produce Ingeo using carbon sources that are most abundant, available and appropriate for the region in which the production facility is located.

"Calysta's proprietary technology enables a novel route from a significant greenhouse gas to high-value industrial chemicals such as lactic acid," said Alan Shaw, Ph.D., chairman, president and CEO, Calysta Energy. "This approach demonstrates the power of biology compared to chemical transformation. Specific products, such as lactic acid, would be extremely difficult to make economically from methane using traditional catalysts."

July 2, 2013