Biopolymers manufacturer NatureWorks has opened a $1 million laboratory at its headquarters Minnetonka, Minn. for research and development to transform methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into lactic acid, the building block of its Ingeo bioplastic.

The company’s methane-to-lactic-acid research project began in 2013 as a joint effort with Calysta Energy to develop a fermentation biocatalyst. In 2014, researchers achieved laboratory-scale fermentation of lactic acid from methane utilizing a new biocatalyst, and the U.S. Department of Energy awarded $2.5 million to the project.

NatureWorks described the opening of the 8,300-square-foot laboratory as another major step in the journey from proof of concept to commercialization.

“A commercially viable methane-to-lactic-acid conversion technology would be revolutionary,” said Bill Suehr, the company’s chief operating officer. “It diversifies NatureWorks away from the current reliance on agricultural feedstocks, and with methane as feedstock, it could structurally lower the cost of producing Ingeo.

“It is exciting to envision a future where greenhouse gas is transformed into Ingeo-based compostable food serviceware, personal care items such as wipes and diapers, durable products such as computer cases and toys, films for wrapping fresh produce, filament for 3D printers, deli packaging, and more.”

Looking ahead, NatureWorks hopes to develop a 25,000-square-foot pilot plant in Minnesota by 2018, followed by a $50 million demonstration project.

“It’s conceivable that within the next decade NatureWorks will bring online the first global-scale methane to lactic acid fermentation facility,” the company said.