Growing a Seed for Biodiesel and Plastics

John Davis

danforthmetabolix.jpgA Massachusetts biotechnology company has joined with a Missouri research firm to develop an oilseed that can produce both biodiesel and plastics.

And this story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Metabolix Inc. and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center will get some money from the state of Missouri to work on the idea:

“It’s exactly what the civic leadership in St. Louis has been positioning St. Louis and the state to become,” said Rob Monsees, executive director of the Missouri Technology Corp., which gave a $1.14 million state grant to the project. “Metabolix is hopefully the first of many examples of plant biotechnology companies that are going to be finding their way to Missouri.”

Scientists from the company and the Danforth Center are working to genetically modify certain oilseeds to produce plastic polymers as they grow. Once harvested, the crop would be broken down into oil for biodiesel refineries and polymers for the production of bioplastics that break down into environmentally friendly waste.

Bioplastics — plastic derived from plant or microbial sources, rather than petroleum — would provide biodiesel facilities with a valuable co-product that they could sell to offset the cost of producing fuel for autos and trucks.

“This is an opportunity that’s potentially very good in terms of the economics,” said Oliver Peoples, Metabolix co-founder and chief scientific officer.

The work will go on near the Danforth Center near St. Louis with plans to open a pilot plant in 2011.