"One of the most ubiquitous and long-lasting recent changes to the surface of our planet is the accumulation and fragmentation of plastics,” - David Barnes, a lead author and researcher for the British Antarctic Survey.
Yet as we are made more aware of the depth of the brutal environmental toll of persistent petroleum-based plastic use, its usage is still on rise as consumption levels climb and it increasingly replaces materials like glass and metal. Research from the Worldwide Institute found that an average person living in Western Europe or North America consumes 100 kilograms of plastic each year, mostly in the form of packaging. Asia uses just 20 kilograms per person, but this figure is expected to grow rapidly as economies in the region expand. And this is without looking at growing consumer economies of South America and Africa.
With plastic being so ubiquitous, a new material is not going to replace it anytime soon. So what if it was made differently using renewable sources? And what if it wasn’t harmful to the environment but naturally biodegradable? These are just some of the questions that Dr. Molly Morse had and her company Mango Materials think they can help answer.
Today Bio-Based World News is in San Francisco to learn more about Mango Materials, a start-up that is making quite a name for its self in the industry. In fact, you may have spotted CEO and Co-Founder Dr. Molly Morse in the fantastic recent ‘Science Can Change the World’ video (see it below if you haven’t already) as well as again just being named in the Hottest 40 Small Companies in the Advanced Bioeconomy” by Biofuels Digest. Incorporated in 2010 and receiving their first round of funding in 2011, Mango Materials produces biodegradable materials from waste biogas (methane) that are economically competitive with conventional oil-based plastics.
Along with co-founder Allison Pieja, Molly had conducted PhD research at Stanford University involving the production and biodegradation of a naturally occurring biopolymer, polyhydroxyalkanote (PHA). As a result she and her colleagues succeeded in creating a unique way of producing PHA using bacteria fed by methane. The team realized that this could be commercialized and offer an alternative to the traditional use of petroleum as a source of plastics. This was the where Mango Materials was born.
In 2012, Mango Materials was chosen as the grand prize winner of $630,000 for the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge Business Plan Competition. The team received the prize in New York City at a dinner that was a part of the Clinton Global Initiative. In 2013, a Phase II National Science Foundation grant was received and in 2014, Mango Materials was honored to receive another grant from the Water Environment Research Foundation as well as the award for Excellence in Technology Research at CleanEquity Monaco presented by HSH Prince Albert II. In 2015, Mango Materials continues to scale their technology and continues to earn more accolades, including Top Green Chemistry Innovator by LAUNCH and Think Beyond Plastic’s “Most Innovative Business” award.
Today, Mango Materials can produce methane-based PHA at cost parity to oil-based plastics. The current goal is to scale-up production to ten million pounds of biodegradable plastic, which requires a staggering half billion cubic feet of methane: Gas that would otherwise be trapping heat in the atmosphere and warming up our planet.
Bio-Based World News Editor Luke Upton caught up with Molly to ask a couple of questions:
Luke Upton (LU): Thanks for the time today, so why do you use methane as your feedstock?
Molly Morse (MM): No problem. Methane is a gas that is often released from wastewater treatment plants, landfills, and agricultural facilities. Comprised of carbon and hydrogen, it is also considered a greenhouse gas and is potentially 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and can contribute to the reduction of the ozone layer. Waste methane gas can be flared or simply released (vented) to the atmosphere. Mango Materials uses waste methane gas that is produced from anaerobic digestion (without oxygen) at waste at wastewater treatment plants or waste methane gas that is produced from waste decomposition at landfills, agricultural facilities, or other industries.
LU: How does Mango Materials transport the methane gas to its facility?
MM: Actually, Mango Materials can co-locate with the waste methane producer so limited transport is necessary. By piping the Mango Materials’ plant directly into the waste methane source, transportation costs can be limited.
LU: This process produces a polymer called PHB, what is that and could you make any others?
MM: We currently product PHB, which stands for poly-hydroxybutryate, a biopolymer that has properties similar to polypropylene. PHB can be made into a variety of products, including microbeads, children’s toys, agricultural films, shampoo bottles, and packaging, just to name a few. Investigations are under way on the production of copolymers as well as blends of PHB with a variety of other materials.
LU: How does what the Mango Materials team (pictured left) produce compare with existing products?
MM: Compared to many other producers of PHB, Mango Materials uses a waste feedstock, the waste methane gas and does not use genetically modified feedstocks and rarely genetically modified organisms. Mango Materials uses a novel, environmentally friendly manufacturing process which results in PHB that is significantly more affordable than PHB produced by competitors. Plus it’s a closed loop, so once the plastic is finished with its use, it can be sent to a wastewater treatment plant or landfill to be biodegraded back into methane, thus creating a cradle to cradle process.
LU: Thanks, these past few years have been very busy. What does 2016 hold for Mango Materials? What would you like to have achieved by the end of the year?
MM: We are excited to have larger volumes of samples and can’t wait for our first products to be fully commercialized. We are specifically excited about products where biodegradability is key including the humanitarian applications that are in the works.
LU: And to finish, what most excites you about our industry?
MM: The unique possibility to change the face of manufacturing on the planet to create closed-loop cycles while being a leader in the in industrial bio-economy!
LU: Thanks very much Molly, looking forward to keeping up-to-date with all the latest developments as they come through!
For more on Mango Materials visit:www.mangomaterials.com
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