NatureWorks has secured a $2.5m government grant to explore alternative feedstocks for its Ingeo biopolymers, which are currently derived from renewable sources such as corn and used in a range of products including apparel fibres.

The grant from the US Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Bioenergy Technologies Office will support an ongoing multi-year programme that aims to use the greenhouse gas methane as a feedstock for Ingeo.

NatureWorks and Calysta are currently working on transforming, via a fermentation process, renewable biomethane into lactic acid, the building block for Ingeo. Biomethane is produced from wastewater treatment, decomposition within landfills, farm wastes, and anaerobic digestion.

"If proven through this collaboration, methane to lactic acid conversion technology could be revolutionary, providing sustainable alternative feedstocks for Ingeo," said NatureWorks' Ken Williams, programme leader for the Calysta-NatureWorks collaboration.

"When coupled with NatureWorks' proven commercial process for lactic acid to Ingeo, the methane to lactic acid process would transform a harmful greenhouse gas into useful and in-demand consumer and industrial products. This disruptive platform could support high-value chemicals and liquid fuels."

Not only does the collaboration address NatureWorks' strategic interests in feedstock diversification, but it could also offer a simpler and lower cost Ingeo production platform. Methane could be an additional feedstock several generations removed from the simple plant sugars used today in a lactic acid fermentation process at the NatureWorks Blair, Nebraska, Ingeo production facility.

Fundamental R&D should be completed in the next two to three years, enabling pilot production in three to five years, the companies said.