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Calysta Energy, NatureWorks successfully ferment methane into lactic acid

Almost a year ago to the day, NatureWorks and Calysta Energy, a company specialized in the development of industrial products from sustainable sources, announced a multi-year collaboration to research and develop a practical, world-scale production process for fermenting methane into lactic acid, the building block for NatureWorks' trademark Ingeo PLA bioplastic. Now, a year into the R&D collaboration, Calysta has announced the achievement of an important milestone: according to the company, it has successfully fermented this abundantly available gas into lactic acid at lab scale.

"This important milestone was achieved ahead of schedule, and demonstrates the capability of Calysta's proprietary biological gas-to-chemicals synthetic biology platform to create new manufacturing pathways using methane as an advantaged and sustainable feedstock," said Alan Shaw, Ph.D., Calysta president and CEO.

A greenhouse gas 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide, methane is generated by the natural decomposition of plant materials and is a component of natural gas. Methane is also generated from society's organic wastes and is produced from such activities as wastewater treatment, decomposition in landfills and anaerobic digestion. The developed technology could directly access carbon from any of these sources.

The research and development collaboration with Calysta Energy was prompted by NatureWorks' strategic interests in feedstock diversification and a structurally simplified, lower cost Ingeo production platform. Currently, Ingeo relies on carbon from CO2 feedstock that has been fixed or sequestered through photosynthesis into simple plant sugars, known as "first generation materials." The direct conversion of methane will greatly simplify the number of steps and operations needed to convert carbon into performance consumer products, while structurally lowering the cost of producing Ingeo.

 "Calysta offers NatureWorks innovative biological tools to activate a broader array of greenhouse gas feedstocks supporting NatureWorks' commitment to feedstock diversification," said Shaw.

He added: "Calysta's proprietary technology enables a novel route from a significant greenhouse gas to high-value industrial chemicals such as lactic acid. This approach demonstrates the power of biology compared to chemical transformation. Specific products, such as lactic acid, would be extremely difficult to make economically from methane using traditional catalysts."

While the critical lab scale first stage of the project has confirmed methane conversion to lactic acid, much additional development work remains. A full demonstration of commercial feasibility may require up to five years of development effort. The companies will share commercialization rights for select products developed under the agreement.

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