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May 1, 2007

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Metabolix and ADM launch Telles, Mirel

Metabolix and Archers Daniel Midland (ADM; Decatur, IL) announced the creation of the joint-venture business Telles, which will create and market Metabolix’s proprietary biobased polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) resin, which has been dubbed Mirel (pronounced muh-rell). Telles, named for the Roman earth goddess, is currently building a commercial-scale plant in Clinton, IA that will have an annual capacity of 110 million lb when it goes online in 2008.

The Mirel product, which is derived from microbes that produce and store the resin after being fed cornstarch, is likened to olefinic materials, with similar properties, as opposed to current biobased market leader, polylactic acid (PLA) from NatureWorks, which more closely mirrors styrenics. In addition, Mirel is billed as fully biodegradable.

The company reports grades suitable for injection molding, paper coating, blown film, thermoforming, and cast film and sheet. Metabolix, which remains a separate entity focused on research and new products, is currently working with more than 40 prospective customers on 60-plus applications, in sectors ranging from consumer products, packaging, single-use disposables, and agriculture and erosion control systems.

According to Robert Findlen, Metabolix’s VP of sales and marketing, the company is undertaking in-house testing to qualify specific grades for U.S. Food and Drug Administration food-contact approval. It’s also in the final development stages for cast- and blown-film grades, which should be available in 3-4 months. Of particular interest is a blown-film grade suitable for biodegradable retail or “t-shirt” bags, which are in greater demand precipitated by petroleum-based bag bans in cities like San Francisco.

According to Findlen, the company currently has sheet, extrusion coating, and injection molding (two) grades, and will soon offer film, foam, fiber, and monofilament grades.

“One of the great things about this material,” Findlen said, “is there are just so many opportunities. The challenge is to cross all the processes.”

Although it doesn’t offer the clarity of PLA, Findlen believes Mirel PHA does have other advantages. “Mirel can be readily injection molded, it has a higher temperature resistance, about twice that of PLA, and, it can biodegrade in industrial composting type facility.” Shares of Metabolix rose $2.90 or 12% to $27.01 on news of the Telles launch. The share price has doubled since the company’s initial public offering in November 2006.—[email protected]

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