Mango Materials - Using bacteria to convert methane into biodegradable plastics

Mango Materials (http://mangomaterials.com/) is a young company in every sense - see the staff members below!

Mango Materials team
The Mango Materials team

I first came across the company through a genuinely exciting presentation by Dr. Anne Schauer-Giminez, Vice President of Customer Engagement at Mango Materials, (Using biogas to produce high value biodegradable plastic) at the Biocycle Conference in Baltimore, October 2014.

Anne explained how the company - based in the San Francisco Bay Area - had developed a patent-protects process to use bacteria to produce PHB (polyhydroxybutyrate) a type of PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) from methane derived from the biogas at an anaerobic digestion (AD) plant or from landfill sites. The PHB is used to produce biodegradable plastic. If co-located at an AD plant the process has the potential to significantly improve the economics of the facility.


Pasted Graphic
PHA and PHB

The PHA is accumulated as globules within the cells of the bacteria fed with the methane.

Mango Materials - PHA in bacteria copy
PHA globules within bacteria

The complete, closed-loop process is summarised in the following figure.


Mango Materiasl cycle
The Mango Materials closed-loop process

The process has the advantage of using cheap methane gas to make PHB rather than the more expensive feedstocks used by other processes.

The Mango Materials concept has caught the imagination of many. Molly Morse, CEO of Mango Materials, was recently interviewed by former astronaut Cody Coleman, along with Cyrus Wadia VP of Nike, on the role that both companies can play in the circular economy (http://www.launch.org/videos/we-need-an-ecosystem-of-thinkers-and-solvers-from-unlikely-places).

I think this technology not only finds an excellent use for methane - an important greenhouse gas - by helping to replace non-biodegradable plastics, but can also make us re-think the role of AD facilities. As seen in my last blog on Kilbride Biotech, the biogas produced by anaerobic digestion (methane and carbon dioxide) can be used to make a wide range of products and not just burned to generate electricity.

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