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Ceres AND Rohm and Haas to Study Plant-Based BioPRODUCTS
Monday April 30, 8:15 am ET

Company Continues Sustainable Chemistry Initiative

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. and SPRING HOUSE, Pa., April 30 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Energy crop company Ceres, Inc. and Rohm and Haas Company, a leading manufacturer of specialty materials, today announced a research collaboration that will work toward producing plant-based alternatives to a petroleum-derived material used in thousands of home and industrial products. Such an innovation would boost the economics of energy crops and biofuel production, and could one day displace as many as 280 million gallons of oil annually with a renewable source.

Funded by a $1.5 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the three-year project will determine if energy crops planted for cellulosic ethanol could simultaneously produce methacrylate monomers, a key raw material used in the manufacture of many products including paint and coatings, building materials, and acrylic sheet and resins. The economics are attractive. More than 1.5 billion pounds of methacrylate monomers are produced annually in the United States, a market worth $780 million.

Though in its early stages, the science looks promising. Molecular biologists and biochemistry experts at Ceres say that some plants naturally produce compounds similar to methacrylate monomers, but do not necessarily accumulate them in extractable forms or quantities. They believe it may be feasible to alter the way plants produce these compounds so that they can be extracted from the dried stalks, stems and leaves before these are fed into biorefineries producing ethanol from cellulose. Cellulosic ethanol derives its energy from the whole plant rather than just the grain, as in corn-based ethanol.

Ceres President and CEO Richard Hamilton says the potential production of co-products may encourage greater investments in biorefineries capable of producing ethanol from cellulose. "Getting the cellulosic ethanol industry up and running will take significant investments and the bigger the prize at the end, the better. Methacrylate monomers are a compelling co-product due to the significant market size, feasibility of plant-based production and the fact that it is currently derived from oil and natural gas," Hamilton said.

There is a readymade market for plant-based methacrylate sources, but the final product will still need to be up to industry specifications, says Tim Donnelly, Global Technology Director for Rohm and Haas Company's Primary Materials business. As one of the world's leading producers of acrylate and methacrylate monomers, Rohm and Haas Company is bringing its market knowledge and technical expertise to the project. They will assist in developing extraction and isolation technology as well as evaluating the end-products.

"Rohm and Haas Company's Primary Materials business is aggressively pursuing economically viable routes to acrylic monomers made from renewable materials. We look forward to adding our monomer expertise to this project," says Donnelly.

Steve Bobzin, Ph.D., Ceres' principal investigator on the grant, says that the research will focus first on producing methacrylate monomers and similar compounds in a model plant with well-understood metabolic pathways. Successful traits would then be applied to energy crops.

Funding for this project was provided by USDA and DOE's 2006 Biomass R&D Initiative grant program, which has targeted $17.5 million for 17 biomass projects. Separately, Ceres received a second $1.5 million grant under the program to double switchgrass yields by 2020. Switchgrass is one of the top feedstocks being considered for cellulosic ethanol production.

ABOUT CERES

Ceres, Inc. is the leading developer of high-yielding energy crops that can be planted as feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol production. Its development efforts cover switchgrass, miscanthus, poplar and other energy crops. Founded in 1997 as a plant genomics company, Ceres holds the largest proprietary collection of fully sequenced plant genes, including more than 75,000 genes and 10,000 gene promoters. The privately held company also licenses its traits to other organizations. Ceres' headquarters are located in Thousand Oaks, California.

ABOUT ROHM AND HAAS

Since 1909, Rohm and Haas has developed innovative technologies and solutions for the specialty materials industry. The company's technologies are found in numerous industries, including: building and construction, electronics, food and retail, household and personal care products, industrial process, packaging, paper, transportation and water. Based in Philadelphia, PA, the company generated annual sales of more than $8 billion in 2006.

Source: Rohm and Haas Company

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