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   Non-TechMetabolix [MBLX] a Full Disclosure Thread


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From: Sam Citron5/29/2008 12:28:35 PM
   of 78
 
Microcap NTI hitting all-time highs today. Makes bio-plastics, inter alia.

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From: Sam Citron6/13/2008 1:18:30 PM
   of 78
 
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.

greencarcongress.com

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From: Glenn Petersen6/23/2008 5:26:47 AM
   of 78
 
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.

businessweek.com

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To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (58)11/18/2008 12:02:18 PM
From: Sam Citron
   of 78
 
Seeing a Pitched Battle Over Plastic Bags [NYT]
By MIREYA NAVARRO

Steven Thrasher usually carries two reusable cloth bags for any impromptu shopping. At the Ikea store in Brooklyn the other day, he gladly forked over $1.18 for two of the store’s big blue bags, made of durable plastic for repeated use.

But even an environmentally aware New Yorker like Mr. Thrasher cannot shake himself loose of the everyday disposable plastic bag. Friends visit him with food and drink wrapped in plastic. Sometimes, caught without his cloth bags when running into a store for an unplanned purchase, he accepts a plastic bag. For all his good intentions, he has a balled-up pile of them under his kitchen sink, like the rest of us.

“I’d pick up 50 bags a week instead of 2 or 3 if I wasn’t conscious of it,” said Mr. Thrasher, 31, a freelance writer from Fort Greene, Brooklyn. “You’re always having a plastic bag put in your hand.”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced this month that he would push for a 6-cent fee on each plastic bag, both to raise as much as $16 million a year for the city in its economic slump and to steer New Yorkers toward greener practices — switching to bags they can use over and over.

Yet even those who agree with the idea say the weaning from such a symbol of waste could be particularly difficult, if not painful, in a city with New York’s quirks.

In interviews over the past week, many shoppers said the city’s largely carless, minimalist style did not easily lend itself to toting canvas or heavier plastic bags around like another accessory. Many also pointed out that the plastic bag is hardly a throwaway — indispensable, they said, for cleaning up after pets, camouflaging the smell of a dirty diaper, hiding an open can of beer or simply holding other trash.

“I’d have to buy garbage bags, which is more plastic again,” said Ellen Goldstein, 56, a painter and animator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Ms. Goldstein agrees that plastic must ultimately go, and she has plenty of cloth bags in her car. But that is where they remained when she caught a ride with a friend to Fairway Market in Red Hook last week.

So while her friend, Sarah Goldman, 42, a baker from Long Island, filled one side of the trunk with reusable bags reading, “There is only one earth,” Ms. Goldstein self-consciously filled the other with more than a dozen plastic bags fresh from the store.

“I do feel guilty,” she said.

Plastic bags, particularly the flimsy ones that float over windy streets, are widely considered an environmental nuisance that use up petroleum, litter the landscape, clog storm drains and recycling equipment and linger for centuries in landfills.

City officials are still fine-tuning the details of the surcharge: Which kinds of plastic bags would require one? Is 6 cents — 5 for the city and one for the merchant — enough? While Mayor Bloomberg has called the charge a fee that could be approved by the City Council, the city’s top budget official said on Monday that it was a tax and would require approval from the State Legislature.

Several European countries already impose hefty taxes of as much as 33 cents on standard plastic bags. San Francisco has banned them altogether at large grocery stores and pharmacies unless they are biodegradable bags, which are more expensive than regular ones.
The news that New York was about to grapple with the issue drew hundreds of comments last week to The New York Times Web site, many of them welcoming the city out of the dark ages.

“How do I clean out my litter box every day?” one New Yorker asked. “What do we use in place of plastic bags? I am serious!”

John of Phoenix replied: “Simply keep the bag the litter came in and pour the used litter back into it. Problem solved.”

Lydia of New Jersey said she solved a similar problem by sliding a folded newspaper under her dog “when she squats to do her business.”

“Then I simply refold the paper around her droppings and discard the whole thing,” she wrote.

But some New Yorkers are not buying the mayor’s proposal. Eddie Collins, 57, an unemployed truck driver from Brooklyn, said that if the city were serious about protecting the environment, it would allow residents to recycle plastic bags just as it does paper and glass. The city passed a law this year requiring stores that provide plastic bags to accept them back from customers for recycling into new bags, but there is no such program for homes.

Robert Lange, director of the city’s recycling program, said the bags posed a challenge for such large-scale recycling because many are not clean enough to enter the recycling stream and, once there, tend to wrap themselves around other recyclables.

Count Mr. Collins among those willing to pay a tax for plastic. “If I need seven or eight bags, I’m not going to take eight canvas bags with me,” he said flatly.

There are, indeed, logistical issues that may make it impractical for many New Yorkers to bring their own reusable bags along when they shop. Most people walk or take the bus and subway, so they have no car trunk in which to carry a number of them. Because so many purchases are spur of the moment — as easy as spotting a storefront and remembering you need candles or toothpaste — sometimes the backpack, briefcase or humongous handbag that can store them are not handy.

And many people have found at least a second use for the single-use plastic bags. Janice Thomas, 47, a nanny in Brooklyn, said she used them to wrap items for her care packages to relatives in Granada. “You fold the stuff up and put them in the bag for shipping,” she said.

Mr. Thrasher, the Brooklyn man battling the wad of bags under his sink, finds plastic bags ideal for, of all things, composting. He uses them to store food scraps in the freezer, then takes them once a week to his farmers’ market. With a paper bag, he said, “I’d worry it’d rot through.”

On rainy days at Luna Deli, a bodega in East Harlem, some customers demand plastic bags even without a purchase.

“They ask for bags to cover their shoes,” said David Cortes, a store clerk who said he sometimes charges 5 cents per bag in such cases because “the store pays for those bags — they’re not a gift.”

Mr. Cortes said he had a front-row seat to the waste: Customers ask for bags even for cigarettes, and to wrap beer cans “so the police don’t see them drinking.”

“It just creates more trash,” said the clerk, who said he agreed with the proposal.

But customers like Bernadette Ojeda, 37, a mother of six, said charging 6 cents was “not right.”

“It doesn’t make sense to have to carry an empty bag around,” she said of the idea of bringing her own bag. “That’s what the plastic bag is for.”

Environmental groups like Natural Resources Defense Council support the idea of a surcharge, saying the goal is to make people switch to reusable bags and to conserve resources. “If you end up reusing a plastic bag 5 times or 10 times, that could replace 5 or 10 of the flimsy bags that are now used,” said Eric A. Goldstein, a senior lawyer with the council in New York. Whether durable plastic or cotton, the reusable bags are a greener alternative as long as they are, in fact, used and not forgotten in a closet, he said.

But many grocers and retailers oppose the tax, fearing an increased demand for the paper bag, which they point out is more expensive and, because it is bulkier than plastic, requires more space and trucks to deliver. While easily recyclable, paper bags also require killing trees.

Patricia Brodhagen, a spokeswoman for the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, a group that represents grocery store chains like ShopRite and A & P, said the city should give the stores incentive programs — like the nickel that customers get back at some chains if they use their own bags — and the city-mandated recycling program for plastic bags a chance to work. She said it was too early to tell how well that program was doing but “what we’ve seen as a rule in New York State is that the use of reusables has gone up.”

City shoppers already face bans on disposable plastic at stores like Ikea and neighborhood co-op markets.

Ikea started phasing out plastic bags in March 2007 with a 5-cent surcharge per bag. The manager of the Brooklyn store, Mike Baker, said that by the time the bags were eliminated last month, more than 90 percent of customers had either switched to the big blue bags the store sells for 59 cents or decided to load up bag-less, “like Costco.”

“There’s been no riots,” Mr. Baker said.

But the world may have to wait for New York to adjust. Mr. Thrasher, who grew up in California, said the New York mindset is such that he gets looks whenever he goes out to the corner deli for a pint of ice cream and refuses a plastic bag for it.

“People always think it’s weird, but it’s a 40-second walk from the deli to my house.

“If you can carry it to the cash register,” he said, “you can carry it home.”

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To: Sam Citron who wrote (59)11/19/2008 10:15:29 AM
From: Glenn Petersen
   of 78
 
MBLX burnt through $6.4 million in cash during the third quarter. As of September 30, they had $94.6 million in cash. They expect to start shipping product during the second quarter of next year.

Metabolix Reports Third Quarter 2008 Financial Results and Provides Business Update

Wednesday November 5, 4:01 pm ET

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Metabolix, Inc. (NASDAQ: MBLX - News), a bioscience company focused on developing clean, sustainable solutions for plastics, chemicals and energy, today reported financial results for the three months ended September 30, 2008.

The Company reported a net loss of $9.7 million or $0.42 per share for the third quarter of 2008 as compared to a net loss of $8.3 million or $0.37 per share for the third quarter of 2007.

The Company’s net cash used for operating activities during the third quarter in 2008 was $6.4 million, which compares to net cash used of $0.9 million for the comparable quarter in 2007. The increase in cash used from operating activities is primarily attributable to the increase in net loss and the timing of support payments received from Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM). Unrestricted cash and short-term investments at September 30, 2008 totaled $94.6 million.

“This quarter we made steady progress in the commercialization of MirelTM, as well as in our plant science programs,” said Richard Eno, President and CEO of Metabolix. “We continued to build overall demand for Mirel and are pleased to have two new customer agreements: with Ball Horticultural and with a Fortune 500 consumer products company.” Added Mr. Eno, “In plant science, our Australian collaborators, the Cooperative Research Centre for Sugar Industry Innovation through Biotechnology (CRC SIIB), reported the production of sugarcane containing 3.5% polymer. This development mirrors our earlier announcement of our accomplishments in switchgrass and provides a further proof-of-concept for polymer production directly from crops.”

THIRD QUARTER 2008 FINANCIAL OVERVIEW

Metabolix used $6.4 million of cash in operating activities for the third quarter 2008, which compares to net cash used of $0.9 million for the comparable quarter in 2007. Metabolix currently manages its finances with an emphasis on cash flow. Net cash used in operating activities increased as the Company expanded its activities in sales and marketing development, and research and product development. The Company expects its net cash used in operating activities to increase in future quarters as it expands its operations in advance of the full commercialization of Mirel and for the development of its longer term technology platforms.

The Company received $0.5 million in payments from ADM during the third quarter of 2008 for reimbursement of pre-commercial manufacturing expenses. Payments from ADM are recorded as long term deferred revenue on the Company’s balance sheet.

Total revenue in the quarter was $0.4 million, which included revenue recognized from delivery of Mirel sample product and government research grants.

For the three months ended September 30, 2008, total operating expenses were $10.6 million as compared to $10.0 million for the comparable quarter in 2007.

Research and development expenses were $6.6 million for the quarter ended September 30, 2008, up from $5.7 million for the comparable quarter in 2007. This increase was primarily the result of continued expansion of product development activities associated with developing new product grades and formulations for prospective customers, and increases in research and development personnel for polymer science and engineering primarily to support the Company’s collaborative agreement with ADM.

Selling, general and administrative expenses were $4.0 million for the three months ended September 30, 2008 as compared to $4.3 million for the comparable quarter in 2007. The change was primarily due to a decrease in stock-based compensation expense partially offset by increased expenses relating to expanded operations as the Company prepared for the commercialization of Mirel.

BUSINESS UPDATE

Construction of Commercial Manufacturing Facility

Construction of the commercial manufacturing facility at Clinton, Iowa is progressing. All major equipment is in place and buildings are approaching completion, control rooms and laboratories are being outfitted and operating manuals are being prepared. The Company remains on target for product shipments to customers during the second quarter of 2009.

New Customers

Telles, the Company’s joint venture with ADM that produces Mirel bioplastics, recently entered into two new significant customer agreements. The first was with Ball Horticultural, as previously disclosed. This agreement is for the use of bioplastic sheet grade resin for the Ball Horticultural Company patented Soilwrap™. This is a new concept for a bottomless plant container that was test marketed in June at the twelfth annual LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) Forum held in Boulder, Colorado. The Soilwrap made with Mirel is a fully biodegradable and compostable plant pot solution for the home gardener.

Telles also signed a three-year supply agreement with a Fortune 500 consumer products company. The targeted application will be an injection molded plastic product with launch planned for the second half of 2009. This initial supply contract is for one product line in one brand family; the customer has over a dozen brands, a number of which could be applicable for Mirel.

Conference Call Information

Richard Eno, the Company's President and CEO, and Joseph Hill, CFO, will host a conference call on Wednesday, November 5, 2008, at 4:30 p.m. (Eastern Time) to discuss these results. To participate, dial toll-free 1-888-684-1277 or 1-913-312-1410 (international). The passcode is 1084482. The conference call will be webcast and can be accessed from the Company's website at www.metabolix.com in the investor relations section.

To listen to a telephonic replay of the conference call, dial toll-free 1-888-203-1112 or 1-719-457-0820 for international callers and enter passcode 1084482. The replay will be available beginning at 7:30 p.m. (Eastern Time) on Wednesday, November 5, 2008 and will remain available through 11:59 PM (Eastern Time) November 12, 2008. In addition, the webcast will be archived on the Company's website in the investor relations section.

<snip>

biz.yahoo.com

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To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (60)11/19/2008 12:34:28 PM
From: Sam Citron
   of 78
 
In spite of the ugliness of the capital markets right now, at this burn rate, there should be sufficient cash to tide them over until they become profitable. This does nothing to prevent the stock from going to $2 in the interim, however. It's a great time to have some cash on the sidelines.

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To: Sam Citron who wrote (61)11/19/2008 1:23:58 PM
From: Glenn Petersen
   of 78
 
I was thinking the same thing, though there are no guarantees that they will be successful (and profitable) when they start shipping product next year. I think that the stock might start moving up during the first quarter in anticipation. If the technology is viable, this is a long-term winner. The problem is: Have we seen the bottom?

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To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (62)11/20/2008 4:33:05 PM
From: Sam Citron
   of 78
 
Given the state of the market, I'm frankly surprised MBLX is still above $2. I have to wonder how much appetite will remain for green investments in this carnage. It's going to take guts for politicians to do ANYTHING that hurts consumers any further.

Sam

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To: Sam Citron who wrote (63)11/27/2008 10:41:43 PM
From: Glenn Petersen
   of 78
 
It's going to take guts for politicians to do ANYTHING that hurts consumers any further.

Normally I would agree with you. However, while most of Barack Obama's initial staff and cabinet appointments have come from the center, his rhetoric, and the rhetoric of the Democratic Congress, has continued to be aggressive on environmental issues. The replacement of Dingell with Waxman may be an indication of where we are heading.

Given the carnage, MBLX does look pricey at $7.00.

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To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (64)3/2/2009 3:34:47 PM
From: Sam Citron
   of 78
 
I Have Just One Word for You: Bioplastics [BW]
businessweek.com

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

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 30million 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 $100million worth of products in the past year, including its bioplastic called Sorona. Starting in 2009, Cargill's NatureWorks unit hopes to ship 140,000metric 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 $300million 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 3million 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 1million 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 $200million factory in Clinton, Iowa. It will crank out 55,000tons 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.

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