We are a bioscience company that develops and is in the process of commercializing environmentally sustainable, economically attractive alternatives to petroleum-based plastics, with work underway to do the same with chemicals and energy. We have core capabilities in microbial genetics, fermentation process engineering, chemical engineering, polymer science, plant genetics and botanical science, and we have assembled these capabilities in a way that has allowed us to integrate biotechnology with chemical engineering and industrial practice.
Our first platform, which we are commercializing through Telles, LLC (Telles), a joint venture with Archer Daniels Midland Company, or ADM, is a proprietary, large-scale microbial fermentation system for producing a versatile family of polymers known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA's), which we have branded under the name Mirel™. Through Telles, we intend to sell these bioplastics as biobased and biodegradable, but functionally equivalent, alternatives to petroleum-based plastics. Mirel offers superior biodegradability characteristics and can be used in a wide range of commercial applications, including products used in agriculture and horticulture, compost and organic waste diversion bags, marine and aquatic applications, consumer products, business equipment and durable goods, and general packaging materials. Mirel is now being produced in a new commercial scale plant located in Clinton, Iowa (the Commercial Manufacturing Facility) designed for an annual capacity of 110 million pounds. ADM completed construction of the initial phase of the Commercial Manufacturing Facility in 2009. The Commercial Manufacturing Facility produces biobased and biodegradable Mirel plastic using corn sugar, an abundant agriculturally-produced renewable resource.
Our second technology platform, which is in an early stage, is a biomass biorefinery system using plant crops to co-produce both bioplastics and bioenergy. For this system, we intend to extract polymer from the engineered plant crop, so that the remaining plant material can be used as a biomass feedstock for the production of bioenergy products including electricity and biofuel. We are engineering switchgrass to produce bioplastics in the leaf and stem of the plant. We have also collaborated with the Australian Cooperative Research Centre to do the same in sugarcane, and with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center to develop an advanced industrial oilseed crop for co-production of bioplastics along with vegetable oil, biodiesel fuel, or oleochemicals. Switchgrass is a commercially and ecologically attractive, non-food energy crop that is indigenous to North America and is generally considered to be a leading candidate for cellulose-derived production of ethanol and other biofuels. Sugarcane is an established energy crop that is well suited for tropical regions of the world. We believe that using these crops to co-produce bioplastics with bioenergy products can offer superior economic value and productivity as compared to single product systems that produce them individually. We have been working on our biomass biorefinery platform using switchgrass for several years, and we believe that we are a scientific leader in this field. Our goal for this program is to have commercially viable plant varieties in pre-commercial field trials within two years. We may also seek to establish alliances with partners to commercially exploit this platform.
As demonstrated by our first two technology platforms, we take an integrated systems approach to our technology development. We are focused on developing entire production systems from gene to end product as opposed to developing specific technologies (for example, gene sequencing, shuffling or directed evolution) or singular aspects of a product's production (for example, providing a key enzyme, catalyst or ingredient). We believe this systems approach optimizes manufacturing productivity and, when commercialized, will enable us to capture more economic value from any platform that we pursue.
For our third platform we intend to apply our core capabilities in microbial engineering to develop biological routes to other chemicals and chemical intermediates. During 2009 we completed all work under our U.S. Department of Commerce National Institute of Standards and Technology grant, a $2 million grant aimed at producing four-carbon ("C4") chemicals from renewable sources. C4 chemicals are a large family of chemicals enabling a wide range of end use applications, including engineering resins, urethanes, solvents, and personal care products. We were able to achieve all of the technical milestones outlined in this grant. Based on these accomplishments, we believe we have the technical foundation for an attractive C4 chemicals business. During 2009, we conducted a detailed review of the C4 external economic and competitive landscape, and as a result we are prioritizing the specialty C4 chemicals segment for commercialization. Discussions with potential partners were initiated in 2009 with the goal of commencing scale-up development activities during 2010.
To exploit our first technology platform, we are working closely with ADM to bring the Commercial Manufacturing Facility in Clinton, Iowa to full operations and capacity in advance of customer demand for Mirel. The biodegradable bioplastics that this facility is beginning to produce are highly versatile and range in properties from hard and strong to soft and flexible. These properties allow for a wide variety of commercial applications, offering a biobased alternative to petroleum-derived synthetic materials which are not biodegradable. Through Telles we are positioning Mirel as a premium priced specialty material catering to customers who want to match the functionality of petroleum-based plastic, with the added dimension of environmental responsibility to their products and brands.
With ADM, we have conducted product and business development activities, including production of pre-commercial amounts of Mirel, working with potential customers, and initiating qualification trials of our material for selected customer applications. In addition, we have established commercial supply agreements with several customers through Telles. We expect that our products will initially be sold to companies that are:
establishing themselves as leaders of the emerging market trend toward environmentally responsible products and services;
addressing current or anticipated regulatory pressure to shift to more sustainable products; and/or
selling products in which biodegradability is a key functional requirement.
We have a pipeline of current and prospective customers that reflect each of these traits.
Our goal is to be the leader in discovering, developing and commercializing economically attractive, environmentally sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based plastics, chemicals and energy. To achieve this goal, we are building a portfolio of programs that we believe will not only provide an attractive slate of commercial opportunities but will also generate leading and competitive intellectual property positions in the field. Key elements of our strategy include:
Establishing Production of Mirel—As part of our strategic alliance, ADM has completed construction of the initial phase of the Commercial Manufacturing Facility in Clinton, Iowa to produce Mirel. The ADM site was designed for an annual capacity of 110 million pounds and can be expanded to accommodate significant production beyond its initial capacity. The plant began manufacturing operations in December of 2009.
Market Positioning and Sales—We have put in place a marketing and sales team to educate and develop the prospective customer base for Mirel on behalf of Telles, our joint venture with ADM. This team is focused on positioning Mirel as a premium priced, specialty material that is an environmentally attractive alternative to petroleum-based plastics and lower performance bioplastics. Consistent with this positioning, we are marketing our biobased and biodegradable plastic under the brand name Mirel™ and will seek to co-brand Mirel with Telles customers. The focus of this effort is to build a pipeline of customers across a range of applications. It is our goal to establish customer relationships that will lead to purchase commitments for the 110 million pound annual design capacity of the Commercial Manufacturing Facility and then, ultimately, to expand the plant beyond its initial capacity.
Continuing Microbial Research and Process Development—We have identified opportunities to improve our production strains and our fermentation and recovery processes. We believe that significant reductions in the operating and capital cost to manufacture Mirel can occur as we successfully exploit these opportunities. We also believe that as we acquire more experience with manufacturing our products at commercial scale, we will identify and make further improvements.
Developing Applications for Mirel—We have developed formulations of our polymer suitable for injection molding, blown and cast film, sheet and thermoforming. These grades are being refined further to tailor them for specific customer performance requirements and applications. In addition, we are developing new formulations and processing protocols to extend the use of Mirel into foam and non-woven applications.
Advancing Switchgrass Research and Other Plant Strains—We believe that we are pioneering the technical process of introducing multigene traits into plant crops for the production of plastics directly in the plant. Our switchgrass platform is currently in the research phase. In August 2008, we announced that in greenhouse trials, switchgrass plants engineered using Metabolix multi-gene expression technology produced significant amounts of PHA bioplastics in leaf tissues. This result, developed using Metabolix's expertise in pathway engineering in plants, was the first successful expression of a new functional multi-gene pathway in switchgrass. It demonstrated the Company's path breaking bioengineering capabilities as a powerful tool for maximizing the potential of biomass crops for both bioplastic and biofuel production. In October of 2009, we completed a field trial of tobacco, genetically engineered to express polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) biobased polymers. The trial was performed on 0.8 acres of land and provided valuable data and information relating to polymer production, with the best plants producing 3-5% PHA. This furthers development of Metabolix crop technologies for the co-production of biobased plastics in non-food bioenergy crops. We intend to continue improving our plant strains to achieve even higher levels of PHA content by weight. We are also exploring additional crop varieties that offer attractive commercial opportunities. These include oilseed, which is suitable for northern climates and can co-produce PHAs along with biodiesel feedstock, and sugarcane, which is suitable for tropical climates and can co-produce PHAs along with ethanol feedstock.
Partnering our Plastics in Plant Crops Programs—As appropriate, we may seek to leverage our technology and establish strategic partnerships with one or more industry leading companies that can provide access to resources and infrastructure valuable for commercializing these platforms. These partnerships may take the form of large-scale strategic collaborations, or more limited collaborations