|From: richardred||2/27/2008 1:18:17 PM|
|Metabolix Still in Development|
Wednesday February 27, 9:44 am ET
By Jason Napodano, CFA
Metabolix, Inc. (NasdaqGM: MBLX - News) is a biotechnology company focused on the development and commercialization of environmentally sustainable, economically attractive alternatives to petrochemical-based plastics, fuels and chemicals. We are pleased to see the company's progress with its lead technology platform, PHA Natural Plastic.
Metabolix is set to commence commercial production of Natural Plastic in December 2008. However, the company is several years away from achieving profitability.
Metabolix is working on the development and commercialization of environmentally sustainable and economically attractive alternatives to petrochemical-based plastics, fuels and chemicals. Metabolix has a key strategic alliance with Archer Daniel Midland (NYSE: ADM - News), one of the world's largest agricultural products processors and industrial fermentors, for the development and commercialization of Natural Plastic.
Metabolix is working on a second technology platform which is being developed for the co-production of Natural Plastic and biomass feedstock. However, this program is still in an early stage of development. It is difficult to value MBLX shares, given its little revenue and negative EPS. Based on our long-term earnings model, we do not see MBLX posting positive EPS over the next several years.
We rate the shares a Hold with a price target of $18. The stock is currently trading at $16.97. A suitable strategic partnership for the switchgrass program could provide upside to the name.
Arpita Dutt, CA, contributed to this report.
Read the full analyst report on MBLX.
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|To: richardred who wrote (49)||3/4/2008 3:07:16 PM|
|From: Sam Citron|
|Today MBLX hit a new yearly low ($14.85) and is getting closer to becoming just another broken IPO. I have seen no significant news since the prospectus. It has been and will remain a development stage company for some time to come. Everything depends on their transition from using expensive to corn to cheap cellulose as a feedstock for biodegradable plastics and energy.|
I have been long and short in the past, but have no present position in the stock. Given the state of investor sentiment, it is not surprising to me that most speculators have fled these shares, not for "greener" pastures, but for more traditional energy and agricultural stocks that are making profits in today's uncertain environment. Perhaps a leadership change in the White House may provide the next catalyst to move MBLX higher, with a change in environmental and energy policy. Until such a change occurs, it wouldn't surprise me to see MBLX trade in single digits, given the financial climate and investors tendencies to throw babies out with the bathwater.
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|To: richardred who wrote (52)||3/19/2008 8:05:13 PM|
|From: Sam Citron|
|I wouldn't get too excited about it although it was strong in a very weak market today, especially for commodities.|
I'm trying not to even look at it until October when tax loss selling kicks in. The kind of bear market we are in, it could lose half its market value by then, before the Clinton plant is even completed. Depends partially on their cash burn rate.
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|To: richardred who wrote (48)||3/31/2008 12:52:53 PM|
|Eastman Sells PET, PTA Assets in Europe|
Monday March 31, 11:32 am ET
KINGSPORT, Tenn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Eastman Chemical Company (NYSE:EMN - News) today announced it has completed the sale of its European PET and PTA assets to Indorama. Included in the sale are Eastman’s PET facility and related businesses in the United Kingdom and its PET and PTA facilities and related businesses in the Netherlands. The total cash proceeds of the transaction are €224 million or approximately US $354 million, subject to adjustments in working capital. The transaction will result in a gain on sale in the Company's consolidated financial statements for first quarter.
"This transaction completes Eastman’s divestitures of its non-strategic PET and PTA assets located outside the U.S.,” said Gregory O. Nelson, Eastman executive vice president and polymers business group head.
Eastman announced in December 2007 that it had entered into an agreement for the sale, subject to customary approvals.
About Eastman Chemical Company
Eastman manufactures and markets chemicals, fibers and plastics worldwide. It provides key differentiated coatings, adhesives and specialty plastics products; is a major supplier of cellulose acetate fibers; and produces PET polymers for packaging. As a Responsible Care® company, Eastman is committed to achieving the highest standards of health, safety, environmental and security performance. Founded in 1920 and headquartered in Kingsport, Tenn., Eastman is a FORTUNE 500 company with 2007 sales of $6.8 billion and approximately 10,500 employees. For more information about Eastman and its products, visit www.eastman.com.
Eastman Chemical Company
Tracy Kilgore, +1-423-224-0498
Greg Riddle, +1-212-835-1620
Source: Eastman Chemical Company
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|To: richardred who wrote (54)||4/15/2008 11:53:45 AM|
|From: Sam Citron|
|Adored, Deplored and Ubiquitous [NYT]|
By NATALIE ANGIER
Come next Tuesday, in a move flagrantly timed to coincide with Earth Day, the Whole Foods supermarket chain will no longer offer its customers the plastic bag option. Seeing that “it can take more than 1,000 years for a plastic bag to break down in a landfill” and that “in the U.S. alone, about 100 billion plastic bags are thrown away each year,” the company said it could not in good conscience contribute to the crisis.
Bravo. Now tell me this: What am I supposed to line my garbage cans with? I always use plastic supermarket bags, and the Whole Foods ones were by far my favorites — roomy and springy enough to hold a lot of sodden waste without fear of breakage, always a plus when one is disposing of, say, fish skins or cat litter. So if I have to buy plastic bags by the box, that’s better for the environment how? Forget about paper bags for this purpose. When we were growing up in the Bronx, my older brother recently reminded me, we lined our garbage can with newspapers, a solution satisfactory to none but the roaches.
A century ago, the Belgian-born chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland ushered in a materials revolution with his invention of Bakelite, a synthetic resin that was molded into radio cases, lamps, buttons, dressers and other Antiques Roadshow reliables. We have been emotional bobbleheads about plastics ever since. We adore plastics for their versatility, lightness, strength and affordability, and it seems we can’t get enough: the United States produced 6.5 billion pounds of raw plastic in December alone, up 2.3 percent from a year earlier. We deplore plastics for being cheap petroleum products and fear we’ll never get rid of them.
Yet scientists point out that the class of substances lumped together under the plastics postmark is so broad and diverse that to condemn or condone them categorically makes no sense. Moreover, the field is evolving rapidly, as researchers strive to spin plastics from renewable sources like sugar cane and grass clippings in lieu of fossil fuels, and to outfit their creations with the chemical grace to decay once discarded. “We can do a lot of interesting things, but there’s more research that needs to be done,” said James A. Moore, a professor of chemistry at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The biggest catch in reaching the new, greener stage of the plastics age, he said, “is that we have to accept that it’s going to cost money.”
Glancing around my office, I see how difficult it would be for me to live plastic-free. I’m typing on a computer keyboard made partly of molded polyvinyl chloride, which also serves as the source material for that ultimate plastic item, the credit card. Some components of the two black telephones on my desk are built of injection-molded acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, a material that has the strength and toughness to resist cracking when dropped, and hence is also used in motorcycle helmets and luggage. My earrings are made of Lucite, a lightweight acrylic that is embarrassingly popular among jewelry makers now. A cottontop tamarin doll on my bookcase stares down through beady brown eyes — probably acrylic as well — and its chirpy fake fur is woven from polyester fibers. My desk and bookshelves are made of particle board, a composite of wood chips and a plastic resin. Lining my wastebasket is, yes, a plastic shopping bag, this one from Safeway, and like most plastic bags it’s made of polyethylene, “the largest-volume plastic” of all, said Richard A. Gross, a professor of chemistry and biology at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn. In fact, all my views arrive as though Saran-wrapped, for I’d be blind without the blend of plastics from which my rigid gas permeable lenses are cast.
Uniting these and the hundreds of other plastics that pad our mattresses, elasticize our comfort-fit jeans, suture our wounds, plug our dental cavities, encapsulate our pills, replace our lost limbs, lighten our cars and jets and crisscross our Kevlar vests is the state of being a synthetic polymer. The term polymer refers to any long molecular chain made up of smaller chemical units, or monomers, which polymer chemists habitually compare to beads on a necklace or, when they’re going out for a nice dinner, to pearls on a strand.
Life abounds with polymers. DNA, proteins and starches are polymeric molecules, all concatenations of smaller molecules. Plastics are just polymers in which humans, rather than nature, string the beads. Granted, we’re still pretty crude jewelers by comparison. The synthetic polymers in the plastic skin of a garbage bag, for example, are monotonous skeins of a single type of chemical bauble, ethylene, while the protein polymers in a fish’s skin are intricate arrays of as many as 20 distinct amino acids, the monomers of which proteins are built.
What’s more, whereas nature knows how to make thousands of different polymers and can make them the same length and shape every time, chemists have yet to master such fine control over their product line. “The typical way a polymer is made is you throw your monomers into a big pot and let them all react, as opposed to building them up one piece at a time the way the body does,” said Elliot P. Douglas, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Florida. “When we make a mixture, it’s a mixture of all different lengths.”
But our bodies and our plastics are by no means antithetical beasts. The polymers in both cases tend to feature a lot of carbon atoms, carbon having a readily linkable structure that makes it an ideal component of life — of the lives we live now, and of the ancient, squeezed and subliminated lives that constitute fossil fuels. It’s also an ideal constituent for monomers you want to toss together into your pot and have a product with useful properties come out the other side, like stretchiness, stickiness, ductility, disdain for electrical flow.
The reason petroleum so often serves as the foundation for plastics production is that it offers an ultraconcentrated source of carbon, but carbon is carbon and with the right manipulations other handier biosources like lawn litter will do. Add chlorine to your carbon backbone for hardness and heat resistance. Tack little methyl groups to the carbon backbone for durability, compactness and a ropy indifference to chemical abuse. Extrude your melted mixture through die holes to form pipes, hoses, drinking straws and fibers. Inject it into moldings shaped like Barbie, Ken or a comb. Blow it out like a balloon and you’ve got a new bag. When you’re done, hand it over: I will put it to use.
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|From: Sam Citron||6/13/2008 1:18:30 PM|
|Mazda Motor and Hiroshima University Developing New Bioplastic for Vehicles from Cellulosic Biomass|
13 June 2008
Mazda Motor Corporation and Hiroshima University are collaborating on research to develop a new bioplastic from cellulosic biomass and have it ready for use in vehicles by 2013.
The Mazda Bioplastic Project will focus on designing a production process for an extremely versatile polypropylene, appropriate for extensive use in vehicles, by first converting non-food cellulosic biomass to ethanol, and then investigating various mixtures of ethylene and propylene.
The polypropylene must have sufficient heat resistance, strength and durability to be used in vehicle bumpers and instrument panels. The project will also seek to optimize the manufacturing process for the bioplastic so that it is eco-friendly and cost-effective.
Mazda’s previous research on biomass technology resulted in the world’s first high heat-resistant, high-strength bioplastic and the world’s first 100 percent plant-derived fabric for use in car seats. These two biomaterials are used in the interior of the Mazda Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid. Powered by Mazda’s hydrogen rotary engine mated to a hybrid system, the Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid is scheduled to start commercial leasing in Japan in fiscal year 2008. (Earlier post.)
Mazda began joint activities with the research department at Hiroshima University’s Graduate School of Engineering in 2005. This partnership’s comprehensive agreement on joint automotive technology research includes biomass technology. Going forward, Mazda plans to expand the collaborative research on biomass technologies and strengthen its relationship with Hiroshima University for multidisciplinary joint research. Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) will also participate in the bioplastic project as part of its ongoing agreement to collaborate on biomass research with Hiroshima University.
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|From: Glenn Petersen||6/23/2008 5:26:47 AM|
|I Have Just One Word for You: Bioplastics|
The scourge of indestructible garbage and sky-high oil are fueling interest in plastics from plants. Is it time for tiny biotech Metabolix to get more respect on Wall Street?
by Mara Der Hovanesian
June 19, 2008, 5:00PM EST
For half of his life and all of his 25-year career as a bioengineer, Oliver P. Peoples has wanted to prove two things: that he could reengineer plants to grow biodegradable plastic in their cells and that he could make a lot of money doing it.
On the first goal, Peoples has had astonishing success. His Cambridge (Mass.) company, Metabolix (MBLX), has harnessed the complex genetics of plant-cell metabolism and collected hundreds of patents on a process for manufacturing "bioplastics" in large vats of microbes. A $200million factory is under construction and could start producing Metabolix's bioplastic, called Mirel, early next year. But Peoples' second mission, amassing wealth for himself and his investors, is glaringly incomplete. Mauled in the bear market and pounded by manufacturing delays, Metabolix's shares have spiraled down from a peak of 28 last November to around 11 in recent weeks.
The company is now in a crucible every struggling biotech encounters. As it awaits commercial production, it is burning through cash. And it must carefully pick the right customers to showcase Mirel's wide range of applications, from gift cards and cosmetics cases to plastic bags and computer parts.
Despite the intense pressure, the tall, Scottish-born biologist barely registers concern. Moving with calm determination among cell cultures and seedlings in the company's 13,000-square-foot lab and greenhouse, Peoples, 50, explains why he and his backers are unperturbed by the low share price. As oil prices spike up, so does the cost of plastic materials, virtually all of which are petroleum-based. In addition, consumer groups and environmentalists around the world are in an uproar over the billions of tons of plastic waste that get dumped at sea or buried in landfills and over the health effects of related toxins. Almost 30 million tons a year of plastic solid waste is dumped into the U.S., and about 5% is recycled. These trends fuel demand for novel bioplastics that aren't linked to pricey fossil fuels and don't harm the environment. Peoples says the stock market hasn't recognized these forces; it's simply running away from risk. "When you're a small-cap company, the risk profile is higher, so you get a disproportionate share of the downturn," he says, a faint accent evident in his measured diction.
Peoples may find it easy to stick to his guns because the world's top suppliers of plastics and their customers have all recognized the larger trends. DuPont (DD) fired up its first biomaterials plant in 2006, selling more than a $100 million worth of products in the past year, including its bioplastic called Sorona. Starting in 2009, Cargill's NatureWorks unit hopes to ship 140,000 metric tons a year of a bioplastic called Ingeo<, for use in fresh food containers and textiles, among other things. Brazilian petrochemical giant Braskem (BAK) is spending $300 million on a factory for sugarcane-based bioplastics, while Toray Industries of Japan is making plastics from fermented plant starches and sugars. There's also a host of U.S. startups with names such as Novomer and Cereplast (CERP.OB) that make plastics from wheat, tapioca, potatoes, soy, and more. "We've gone from being mad scientists to being visionaries," says Frederic Scheer, CEO of Cereplast, based in Hawthorne, Calif.
GORGING ON GLUCOSE
All these materials are green in the sense that they reduce dependence on fossil fuels. But while rival bioplastics must be incinerated or composted at high temperatures, Mirel will decompose if it is simply tossed in a home compost heap or dumped at sea. "Mirel is the one that works in all environments," says Joseph P. Greene, a professor in mechanical engineering and manufacturing at California State University at Chico, who was hired by the state to find the best bioplastic on the market. "It breaks down nicely with food or yard waste. Boom, 180 days later and it's nice brown dirt." What's more, the manufacturer determines how fast the plastic biodegrades into harmless plant materials and the conditions under which that happens. About 50 potential customers, including Target (TGT), Revlon (REV), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), medical supply company Labcon, and the U.S. military, are testing Mirel in more than 70 different products. "We have to do something [because] most plastic just ends up in a bad place," says Jim Happ, president of Labcon, which is testing Mirel to replace some 3 million pounds of plastic it uses each year in 800 products for hospital labs. "We love their polymer," says JoAnn Ratto, an engineer at a U.S. Army research center in Natick, Mass., which is evaluating Mirel as a liner for waste bags that are thrown overboard by naval ships. "We can't get enough of it."
Mirel is made in large vats of genetically modified microbes. They gorge on glucose from corn, then convert the sugar into fatty globules, which make up more than 80% of the cells by weight. These are harvested, dried, and turned into pellets. It all sounds painless enough, but getting the microbes to comply requires marvels of genetic engineering.
Peoples is an unlikely miracle worker. He grew up poor in Slamannan, a remote, windswept coal mining town between Glasgow and Edinburgh. His father died when he was 16, leaving little for his family of 11 children. "Olly" was spared a life in the mines by the attention of his high school chemistry teacher, who helped him get into the prestigious University of Aberdeen. After he earned his PhD in molecular biology in 1983, he landed a postgrad spot at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Pulling himself out of poverty and cultivating a competitive streak at MIT prepared him for the life of an entrepreneur, says Pamela Bassett, a Cantor Fitzgerald analyst in New York. "Most scientists want to publish, especially if you're at MIT," she says. "Olly wants to commercialize."
With a background in biochemistry, Peoples sensed early on that genetic engineering would open up whole new commercial landscapes. Most of his lab mates were interested in medical biotech, and several started companies that hit the jackpot, with lush buyouts by drug giants. Peoples yearned for a similar fate. But unlike many of his peers, he bypassed medicine and plunged into industrial applications. MIT filed for patents on his work in 1987, and by the time they were approved four years later, Peoples had negotiated exclusive licenses and mapped out a business plan for a new company. Metabolix was launched in June, 1992.
Perfecting his recipe for bioplastics proved harder than Peoples thought. And when he brought his business plan to Dow Chemical (DOW), DuPont, and others, they rolled their eyes. "We've been laughed out the door more than once," says Peoples. "We thought the sky would open and money would pour down from the heavens. But the reception was underwhelming." To stay afloat, the company went through 11 rounds of financing, plus an initial public offering in November, 2006. All the while, researchers struggled to raise the plastic content in cells.
BECOMING AN EXTRAVAGANCE
The breakthrough came in 2004, when Peoples finally hit the plastic yield target. "Biodegradable plastics had a lot of catching up to do, but the science has provided the means to go from research to industrial-grade applications and make it profitable," says Carmen Scholz, a chemistry professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville who studies such materials. "If it weren't profitable, no one would lay a hand on it."
Total global production of bioplastics is still minuscule. All the manufacturers combined will generate only about 1 million tons a year by 2010, analysts say, compared with 500million tons a year of the petro-based variety. But these ordinary plastics, which account for up to 10% of total U.S. oil consumption, are quickly becoming an extravagance at $138 for a barrel of crude. A switch to bioplastics not only would help reduce oil dependence but also could save companies and consumers serious money. With Dow Chemical hiking the price of its plastic products by up to 20% on June1, some types of bioplastics from Cereplast and others already cost less. If oil stays high, bioplastics could capture 20% of the global plastics market in as little as five years, predicts Jeff Bishop, an independent analyst at Beacon Equity Research in San Francisco. "It's a no-brainer where customers are going to gravitate," he says. John Pierce, DuPont's head of biosciences, calls bioplastics "an opportunity we measure in the billions of dollars."
Mirel is aimed at the premium niche. It will cost more than $2 a pound, vs. under a dollar for commodity bioplastics. And it has some serious backing. Around 2004, with the jump in yields from the company's cell cultures, food and chemical companies suddenly began returning Peoples' phone calls. Metabolix negotiated a partnership with agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), which wanted to supply feedstock for cell cultures. Peoples doggedly held out for a 50/50 split of future revenues. As part of the joint venture, ADM pledged in 2007 to build a $200 million factory in Clinton, Iowa. It will crank out 55,000 tons of Mirel a year starting in early 2009. John D. Rice, ADM's vice-president in charge of the partnership, says: "Our hope and dream is for it to be very successful."
Having proved his science is valid, Peoples wants to scale up production of Mirel without relying on food crops such as corn. Funded by the U.S. Energy Dept., he's trying to bioengineer switchgrass and other plants to produce the plastic in their leaves. If he can pull it off, Metabolix could reap billions of pounds of bioplastics on just a fraction of the acreage currently given over to corn. It'll be a challenge, but Peoples, ever the scientist, says: "The stuff that is easy to do is not that interesting."
Links: A Plastic Pacific
Google "garbage island" and check out a growing ecological catastrophe called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Featured on CNN, it's a "massive stew of unwanted waste" twice the size of Texas in a remote area of the Pacific, northeast of Hawaii. The fast-growing patch was discovered in 1997 by Captain Charles Moore, who founded the nonprofit Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, Calif. He reckons bits of plastic now outnumber plankton in many parts of world's seas.
Der Hovanesian is Banking editor for BusinessWeek in New York.
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