How Yield10 Bioscience plans to grow the PHA bioplastics market

Yield10 Biosciences CEO Oliver Peoples traces his entrepreneurial roots and new venture directly to Metabolix, which he co-founded.

Metabolix pioneered the use of synthetic biology to develop the advanced production of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) biopolymers using engineered microbes in a fermentation process.

“Through this work, Metabolix has developed experience across the entire PHA bioplastics value chain,” Peoples explains. “Metabolix also supported a plant science research program aimed at producing PHA bioplastic in crops as a low-cost production system. It is this crop science activity that has become the foundation of Yield10 Bioscience.

Today, Yield10 is an agricultural bioscience company focused on developing the oilseed Camelina sativa (“Camelina”) as a platform crop for the large-scale production of sustainable, low-carbon seed products.

“The first market we are addressing is the development of elite varieties of camelina for us as a production platform to make base oil for the biofuels market, omega-3 oil for the nutrition and animal feed markets, and PHA produced from camelina seeds for use in biodegradable. plastics market,” he says, setting up the rest of our Q&A.


What are the properties of PHA that make it a useful biopolymer?

Peoples: PHAs are a family of natural biopolymers that can be used to manufacture resin for various applications with different performance requirements. PHAs have a range of properties from crystalline to amorphous. Yield10 has produced polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) at Camelina with the goal of producing plants that can produce yields of 10% to 20% of seed weight to achieve a level of production that will be economically feasible for bioplastics production. Yield10 is also conducting research to produce PHA copolymers in Camelina to expand the range of properties and applications for plant-based production. We believe that PHA bioplastics produced from our Camelina platform would be more economical than fermentation while serving as a functional substitute for many petroleum-based plastics.

Let’s take a step back: what exactly is camelina and where is it grown?

peoples: Camelina sativa is an annual oilseed plant in the mustard family. It has been grown in parts of northern Europe for centuries as a niche crop. We have found that Camelina lends itself very well to advanced genetic engineering and genome editing technologies, making it an excellent platform to deploy new performance and product features. Camelina was selected as Yield10’s platform crop due to its unique attributes, including excellent agronomic traits such as low water and fertilizer input, drought resistance and short life cycle.

Yield10 offers cold-tolerant spring and winter camelina varieties, another example of the versatility of the crop. Yield10 has successfully planted Camelina in parts of the United States and Canada. Camelina has potential as a rotational crop as well as a winter cover crop.


Why is Camelina an ideal source of PHA?

Peoples: The production of PHA in camelina seed is a very sustainable and cost effective way to produce the resin, especially compared to PHA made by fermentation. Another important factor is that increased PHA resin production can be achieved by securing more grower acres and not being so reliant on capital investment to produce the resin. We believe that PHA biomaterials with the right cost structure would have applications in large markets currently not served by agriculture, including water treatment and biodegradable bioplastics applications. We believe that crop-based production will also enable wide global adoption of these materials.

What is the process of making PHA from seeds?

Peoples: Seeds are natural and stable storage sites for large amounts of oil and protein deposited by plants to feed seedlings after seed germination in the field. The stability of seeds at room temperature allows them to be easily harvested, transported and stored prior to processing and makes them the ideal vehicle for seed production of PHA bioplastic crops.

The key concept is to introduce the PHA bioplastic as a new component of the seed composition and by processing the seed producing the PHA bioplastic to produce oil, polymer and protein-rich seed meal. Combining the three products improves the overall value proposition and we believe that over time this will result in PHA bioplastics costs eventually being in line with those of canola and soybean oils. Yield10 plans to develop and commercialize a camelina seed-based PHA biopolymer by selling resin-grade PHA bioplastic feedstock to the bioplastics industry.

Image courtesy of Yield10 BioscienceYield10-Bioscience-PHA-graphic-flowchart.jpg

Please comment on PHA’s competitive landscape.

Peoples: The demand for PHA is strong and many players can successfully participate in this market. Currently, third-party PHA producers are pursuing fermentation-based production systems to produce PHA bioplastics for the biodegradable and compostable plastics market. Major brands include Cheil Jedang, or CJ, from South Korea, Kaneka from Japan, and Danimer Scientific in the United States. We believe these market players are building revenue-generating relationships with brand owners and consumer product companies committed to PHA’s sustainability attributes. The manufacture of PHA by fermentation will be limited in capacity for some time to come.

We believe that if PHA can be produced with Camelina, it would provide us with an opportunity to supply PHA bioplastics to industry to increase available volumes at an attractive price.

Why is now a good time for another source of bioplastic?

Peoples: Now is the time for PHA because the market demand is there. Consumers and brand owners are increasingly aware of the misrepresentation of recyclable and biodegradable materials, but are also keenly aware of the costs associated with finding truly sustainable solutions. Camelina’s PHA has market potential both from a cost-benefit analysis perspective and from a sustainability perspective.

What is the status and what is the next step?

Peoples: The development of PHA-producing Camelina is in the prototyping phase. We are developing our best prototype line, the C3015 trait which in field trials has shown PHA levels of up to 6% of seed weight, to begin early product prototyping and development studies market share for feed and water treatment applications. In parallel, we have an ongoing research and development program to optimize and develop commercial-grade PHA trait lines based on insights from our GRAIN platform with the goal of achieving 10-20% PHA in seeds.

Final thoughts?

Peoples: Yield10 is very committed to its vision of producing PHA at Camelina as a production platform. We are working with industry to increase the availability of PHA for applications that take advantage of its physical properties as well as favorable end-of-life biodegradation/composting attributes to reduce plastic waste worldwide.

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