Will greenhouse gas be the most promising feedstock in coming years?

Mark Herrema, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Newlight Technologies, discusses Newlight Technolgies' operation of the largest greenhouse gas to plastic production facility in the world.

Mark Herrema, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Newlight Technologies, will be presenting at the Biopolymers Symposium 2013. Mr. Herrema has nearly a decade of industrial experience in chemical, biological, and process engineering, intellectual property development, polymer functionalization, private equity finance, and strategic business development.

Mr. Herrema has been instrumental in inventing a range of proprietary GHG conversion systems and materials, receiving numerous associated US and international patents, steering Newlight through multiple private placement offerings, executing a range of strategic partnerships, and leading the engineering, construction, optimization, and expansion of
Newlight's GHG-to-plastic conversion platform.

He'll bring this background of knowledge to Chicago when he addresses the use of epigenetic controls to dramatically increase biocatalyst-based PHA polymer yield from greenhouse gas in our session on Sustainable Feedstocks. Learn more about Herrema and Newlight before joining us at the 2013 Biopolymers Symposium:

Can you tell us a bit about the history of Newlight Technologies and how it developed in the company that it is today?

Newlight started in the summer of 2003 with a newspaper article about cows. The article was about methane emissions from cow burps, and described the volume of methane being emitted by dairy cows: 500-600 liters per cow per day. After doing some kitchen table math, the enormity of the gas volumes being emitted came into focus, and the light bulb went off--the thought was: there must be some way to capture this carbon and turn it into useful materials. A few weeks later, I teamed up with Newlight's co-founder, Kenton Kimmel, a former science bowl competition teammate, and that was the beginning of our journey.

After working out of a garage for a summer, I returned to Princeton and Kenton returned to Northwestern to carry out the founding of our company from our dorm rooms. Eventually, we moved into a research lab, and then built our first scale-up production lines, shifting from agricultural gas sources to municipal and industrial gas sources, and from protein production to plastic production.

Our focus from the beginning was on two elements: cost of production and product performance--we needed to find a way to enable our plastics to out-compete oil-based plastics on price and performance.

Unfortunately, based on low historical yields, costly downstream processing technology, and limited functionalization technology, this is something that had never been done before. To eventually reach this goal, Newlight achieved three key breakthroughs.

First, we engineered a groundbreaking biocatalyst with a yield-multiplying genetic control switch--enabling us to convert greenhouse gases into PHA plastics at yields that were not previously possible, reducing both equipment requirements and operating cost. Second, by virtue of our ultra high yield polymerization process, we developed an elegant downstream processing technology that reduced downstream processing costs by roughly one order of magnitude. Third, we developed unique functionalization technology to enable our resins to be used to replace a wide variety of oil-based plastic grades.

Today, almost a decade after Newlight's founding, we are operating the largest greenhouse gas to plastic production facility in the world, generating revenues from the sale of the world's first commercially available carbon-negative plastics, made from an ultra high yield engineered catalyst. Our resins are being used to produce, among other things, furniture, food containers, films, and caps, and our customers include one of the largest classroom and office furniture manufacturers in the United States, as well as an $8 billion consumer goods company. Our focus now is simple: growth.

Where do you think non-food based feedstocks for biopolymers will go in the next 3 to 5 years?

We believe feedstocks that have a minimal environmental impact are the feedstocks of the future, so we look to greenhouse gas as the most promising feedstock in the next 3-5 years. Other interesting feedstocks include discarded materials that would otherwise go to waste, such as byproducts from agriculture and food production.

In your opinion, what are the applications for biopolymers that have the most growth potential?

Rather than asking which applications will work for biopolymers, we prefer to ask how we can make biopolymers work for wide segments of the plastics industry. If we are limited by price points and performance, it will always be an uphill battle. Our hope is that, with Newlight as a leading provider, we can start to look at "biopolymers" not as niche materials for "eco"-only applications, but as a better source of resin to make products in general. Applications should not be our limiting factor--if it is, we should evaluate our foundation.

What are you looking forward to hearing at the Biopolymers Symposium and why would you recommend attending the symposium to end users looking at different sustainable feedstocks?

This will be our first time participating at the Biopolymers Symposium, and we're really looking forward to learning more about the exciting advancements that have been made in the field.

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