A NEW pilot facility will demonstrate the potential to turn sugar from plants into plastic on a commercial scale.

Plaxica, based at The Wilton Centre near Redcar, will start operating the plant in the second half of this year.

The facility, about the size of a semi-detached house, will demonstrate the process of taking lactic acid derived from renewable sources, such as sugar from plants, and converting it into plastic and polymers.

The process has previously been expensive, but Plaxica, a spin-out company from Imperial College London, has developed a technology it hopes will enable it to be carried out more cheaply and to commercial levels.

The finished product would have a multitude of uses ranging from drink bottles to car interiors and packaging.

Plaxica, employing 25, is to recruit a further five staff to run the facility at Wilton, where it relocated its main development site 18 months ago and has since taken an additional laboratory and offices.

Chief executive Phil Goodier who divides his time between Wilton and Plaxica's research facility at Imperial College in London, said: "Being based here gives us access to the pool of skilled chemists and engineers in the local area.

"We are very excited. It has significant environmental benefits and would enable plastics to be made from sustainable resources and reduce CO2 emissions.

"We have some really neat technology to make it cheaper and a better product."

"It's the way forward as the plastics industry looks to reduce its carbon footprint by using renewables wherever possible," he added.

If its pilot project is successful the company aims to license its process and commercial facilities using its technology could appear around the world within five years.

Mr Goodier said: "The most likely places would be those where plants grow really fast such as Asia and South America, the people we have been talking to about it are all over the world."

Steve Duffield, accommodation manager at The Wilton Centre, said: "The speed of Plaxica's progress is very impressive. It is an ideal operation to have at the Centre, complementing other organisations also here."

In January Plaxica awarded the contract to design its biopolymer demonstration facility to engineering firm Grimley Smith Associates.