NatureWorks, which says it is the world’s biggest producer of polylactic acid (PLA) and by definition therefore a large consumer of corn starch in the USA, is investigating polymers able to use non-food bio sources.
It has linked with Avantium of the Netherlands, a specialist in producing furanes – aromatic compounds derived from biomass with a structure similar to that of benzene – in a research partnership to explore the potential of furanic polymers as commercial plastics.
Initially, NatureWorks will be conducting in-house testing of a selection of Avantium’s polymers for a range of applications, such as personal electronics, automotive, fibres and other engineering plastics applications. The testing period is expected to last approximately a year, and could result after a further few years in a new generation of bio-based polymers which would be complimentary to NatureWorks’ existing Ingeo portfolio.
Both companies have been re-aligning their positions in the biopolymers market. NatureWorks recently became wholly owned by agricultural and food company Cargill again after Teijin pulled out of their partnership in a restructuring move, and actual capacity for Ingeo was pushed up to its oft quoted level of 140,000 tonnes with the switching on of a second production unit. At the beginning of this year Avantium allied itself with a major source of biomass from agricultural waste, Royal Cosun of the Netherlands, which was founded as a co-operative of Dutch sugar beet growers and now produces a wide range of food ingredients.