Metabolix Inc. and Archer Daniels Midland Co. have chosen the name Telles for their PHA joint venture and branded its corn-based polyhydroxyalkanoate Mirel, hoping to distinguish the bioresin in a growing market.
To underscore PHA's roots from the earth, the firms named their venture after the Roman goddess of the earth (Tellus). Telles will be responsible for selling, marketing and differentiating Mirel - ``the miracle of nature'' - from other bioresins, said Bob Findlen, Metabolix's vice president of sales and marketing. Findlen, who assumes that same title at Telles, will run the joint venture.
He also said the venture's headquarters will move at the end of May from its current location at Metabolix headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., to nearby Lowell, an area known for plastics research. Telles has strong ties with the plastics engineering and polymer science departments at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and the school's Lowell Center for Sustainable Production.
``The branding and marketing strategy are very important because of the element of education that needs to occur,'' Findlen said in a recent phone interview. ``We need to educate consumers on why our product is so unique and so different'' from other bioresins, such as polylactic acid, he said.
Mirel, previously called simply ``natural plastic,'' is grown in fermentation vats using sugar and microbes. The resin will decompose or degrade in anywhere from 60 days to 24 months, depending on the density of the product and whether it is in ground water, soil, rivers or municipal treatment plants. By contrast, some other bioresins only decompose in industrial compost facilities.
``Marine degradation is an important part of our product,'' Findlen said.
In addition, he said Mirel offers a higher heat resistance than PLA and greater hydrolytic stability. ``Both are great products and good fits in the marketplace,'' he said. ``But different resins bring different attributes. We are not the only material, but ours gives customers other options.''
Currently, Telles produces 30,000 pounds of Mirel monthly at its pilot plant.
``Sustainability is such a forward-moving trend with many brand owners trying to understand where the technology is going,'' Findlen said. ``We are looking at this as a specialty market and finding those unique places where a company can use Mirel to differentiate their product.''
He cited some examples: organic biodegradable product maker Uzet World of Dublin, Ireland, will produce sod stakes from Mirel; and Recycline Inc., a Waltham, Mass., manufacturer of recycled-content products will use Mirel in its product line, which includes toothbrushes, razors and tableware.
``Our plan is to continue to announce new partnership agreements over the next 18 months,'' as construction continues at Metabolix's 110-million-pound-per-year plant in Clinton, Iowa, Findlen said. The plant is scheduled to begin production in the second half of 2008. ``At the rate we are going, we will have this plant sold out in three years.''
Metabolix is working on more than 50 different application of Mirel with potential customers aimed at markets such as cosmetic cases, plastic bags, detergent containers, mulch film that biodegrades and single-use disposables like coffee cups.
Findlen said Mirel could be used in coated paper and film applications, and can be injection molded, thermoformed and extruded. He also expects film grade products to emerge over the next three months.
By early 2008, Findlen said Mirel grades should be offered for fiber, monofilament and foam.
Metabolix completed its initial public offering in November, raising about $99.3 million after expenses, to be invested primarily in equipment for commercial formulation of Mirel; pre-commercial manufacturing and marketing activities with ADM; as well as further research and development of its switch-grass technology.