Nearly all the plastics sold today come from petroleum and aren’t biodegradable. But researchers at Metabolix in Cambridge, Massachusetts, are genetically engineering switchgrass to produce a biodegradable polymer that can be extracted directly from the plant.
That could transform the economics of making biodegradable polymers. Metabolix already sells such a polymer, but it’s produced by bacteria that feed on plant sugars in expensive fermenters. A plant-based process, which could use crops grown on marginal lands, would require less equipment.
Metabolix estimates that it could ultimately sell its plant-based polymers at less than half today’s prices.