Over at Seedmagazine.com, I have a brief interview with Oliver Peoples, a biochemist who hopes that his new bio-based plastic will upend the petroleum-based industry—and help clean up oceans and landfills in the process:
Seed: So you’re turning corn into plastic in much the same way that the ethanol industry turns it into biofuels. As I’m sure you know, the big criticism of corn ethanol has been that if you account for all of the embedded fossil fuels, it doesn’t wind up being very good for the environment. How does this play out with Mirel?
OP: Grain ethanol has been around for more than 100 years, so the industry’s ability to shift the process to a more favorable energy balance is limited. A good illustration is polypropylene: The energy cost of making it when they first started was probably 10 to 20 times what it is today. This is typically what happens with any manufacturing technology—you get continuous improvements as you learn how to do it better and better. Ethanol has largely been through that cycle. Mirel plastics are still in their early days, but even with our initial start-up we’ve been able to manage the manufacturing of Mirel to make sure that it has an attractive greenhouse gas profile. We are pretty confident that it’s going to get better and better.
I found People’s to be genuinely interested in ensuring the environmental sustainability of his bioplastics (trademarked as Mirel). There ‘s certainly a growing market for biodegradable plastic, so it’ll be interesting to follow this story, and see if there is indeed a paradigm shift here in the making….You can read the full interview here.