Bioplastics maker Cereplast Inc. will commercialize its first grade of algae-based material by the end of the year.
El Segundo, Calif.-based Cereplast has injection molded a test part made from algae and polypropylene, Chairman and CEO Frederic Scheer said in an April 27 phone interview.
Scheer added that Cereplast has been contacted by several companies — including some that injection mold durable goods and bowls and other food-service items — since announcing its research efforts in algae late last year.
“These [algae-based] materials can be used in injection molding, but we don't have any specific application in mind,” he said. “It's not a technological issue anymore.”
The algae-based bioplastic will be made at the plant Cereplast opened last year in Seymour, Ind. Scheer said the Seymour plant “is operating at full speed” and has installed 60 million pounds of annual capacity.
Cereplast currently uses corn, tapioca, wheat and potatoes to make its bioplastics. Using algae would have less potential impact on the food chain and on any food that could be consumed by humans, officials previously had said.
“Commercial algae resins represent a significant breakthrough in the greening of the plastics industry, a transformation that we believe is critical to helping ensure the long-term sustainability of the planet,” Cereplast researcher William Kelly said in an April 27 news release.
“The use of algae as a feedstock for plastics allows us to go full circle,” he added. “The very substance that can absorb and minimize carbon dioxide and polluting gases from the industrial process can also be turned into sustainable, renewable plastic products and biofuels while reducing our use of fossil fuels.”
Scheer added in the release that Cereplast officials believe that, in the not-so-distant future, algae “will become one of the most important ‘green' feedstocks in bioplastics as well as biofuels.”
“Our view is that developing alternative feedstock unrelated to fossil fuels and to the food chain is the next ‘frontier' for bioplastics,” he said. “Cereplast is moving ahead very aggressively on this front.”
Cereplast is not alone in doing research in algae-based plastics. Oil conglomerates ExxonMobil Corp. and BP plc each announced algae research projects last year. ExxonMobil, based in Irving, Texas, recently partnered with algae producer Synthetic Genomics Inc. of La Jolla, Calif. London-based BP plc, meanwhile, invested $10 million in algae supplier Martek Biosciences Corp. of Columbia, Md.
Cereplast also is planning a production deal this year with a major plastics producer, Scheer said. The deal will allow Cereplast to expand production not only beyond Seymour, but to locations outside of North America as well, Scheer explained. He declined to identify the partner before a formal announcement is made.
“This will give us the flexibility we need,” he said. The 80 million-pound maximum capacity of the Seymour plant “is a big number for us, but is small in terms of the resin industry.”
Cereplast also has been widening its distribution network this year. In March, the firm inked a deal with ATSA Chile SA of Santiago, Chile, to distribute Cereplast product in Chile and Peru. In January, Cereplast expanded its distribution deal with Fairlawn, Ohio-based A. Schulman Inc. to include the European market. Schulman already had been representing Cereplast material in North America.
In 2009, Cereplast posted sales of $2.75 million, a drop of 40 percent vs. 2008. But the firm's profit increased from $80,000 to almost $340,000 in the same comparison.
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