By Michael Kanellos
Metabolix, the bioplastic company working with agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), has conducted experiments that could lead to a new life for the stinking weed.
The company has devised a strain of tobacco that will metabolically generate polyhydroxyalkanoate bio-based polymers, or PHA to his friends. Conceivably, this could lead to tobacco farmers growing the plant to harvest plants for plastic rather than cigarettes. The test crop was grown on 0.8 acres and the best plants contained 3 percent to 5 percent PHA. The company started working with tobacco because it's a hearty plant native to the U.S. that can grow in fairly dense arrangements.
Metabolix makes the Mirel line of bioplastics. Later this year it plans to open a production facility to mass manufacture the stuff. PHA costs more than conventional fossil fuel based plastics but is comparable in terms of performance. The price, if all goes well, will also decline over time.
The company will participate in a trial in a Dutch hospital with Pharmafilter. Pharmafilter wants to recycle pretty much everything – the water, the solid waste, etc. – that comes out of a health care facility. Metabolix will provide the plastic for the bedpans and cutlery.