Advancing Downstream Processing of Bioproducts from Methane
Company Name: Mango Materials
Program Office: Bioenergy
Location: Berkeley, CA
Email: Molly Morse, CEO and Founder; firstname.lastname@example.org
Award Amount: $200,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Oil and gas aren't just used as fuel — they're molded into plastics and other commercial and industrial materials. Therefore, reducing fossil fuel use doesn't just require finding new replacements for gasoline, such as biofuels, it requires coming up with novel ways to produce plastics, too.
Mango Materials uses bacterial fermentation to turn methane into an intracellular biopolymer called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). This polymer — which is produced in a powder or pellet form — is similar to the polyethylene and polypropylene plastics that are used in everyday products such as bags, plastic wraps, shampoo bottles, furniture and plumbing and piping, but with one key difference: it will biodegrade at the end of its useful life.
Because the company's process relies on bacterial fermentation of low-cost methane, it can produce PHA at a much lower cost than other processes, which tend to use relatively expensive plant sugars as their feedstock. Additionally, the process could be used to co-locate with waste treatment plants, reducing the need to transport methane feedstocks for conversion into PHA.
This work is targeted at addressing the challenge of testing and implementing downstream processing, which is associated with de-watering and purifying a PHA-rich cell slurry, at pilot scales. If successful, this voucher project will enable Mango Materials to produce significant samples of purified PHA for customers that will advance partnerships and pave the way for commercialization.
PROJECT INNOVATION + ADVANTAGES
Purifying the biopolymer produced through fermentation and removing water from the final product is a key part of the process for turning waste gas into usable plastics. Mango Materials has experimented with different types of de-watering techniques to purify and dry the PHA produced through fermentation. Through the SBV Pilot, the company will work with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit, a 15,000 square-foot advanced technology facility, where scientists will try out different processes to de-water the final product. Mango Materials will then test the separated products for usability as a plastic substitute while also determining the potential for the cell debris and fermentation broth to be used for other possible applications, such as fertilizer.
According to the Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites, the market for PHA is expected to grow to $1 billion by 2017. Further, finding new purposes for waste gas can create value for methane producers. The proposed assistance will advance Mango Materials' methane-to-PHA process closer to commercialization by refining downstream processing techniques that will be used to produce customer samples.
Providing a valuable use for methane will reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, by creating an incentive for its capture. Additionally, creating alternatives to petroleum for plastics production reduces oil demand. The biodegradable biopolymers produced can replace conventional, persistent plastics.
Reducing oil use insulates the United States from global oil price spikes and helps the country diversify its energy supply.
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