Chemical News

Monday, September 1, 2008

Corn Based Polymer

Each year, 60 billion pounds of thermoplastics are produced from imported and domestic oil to make industrial and consumer products. Because oil is an increasingly limited resource with negative impacts on the environment, reducing dependence on oil in all areas is important, including product manufacturing.

Polylactide (PLA), derived from annually renewable corn, can be used in place of petroleum-based thermoplastics in many applications such as compostable packaging, film, and fibers for apparel, carpeting, and other fabrics. With financial assistance from DOE, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory along with Cargill Dow LLC and the Colorado School of Mines developed and refined a process to use PLA in manufacturing. Substituting PLA for petroleum-derived polymers reduces fossil energy use by 20% to 50%. The PLA plastics also result in reduced emissions of CO2 compared with the petroleum-based thermoplastics.

Projections are that 10% of the U.S. nonrenewable plastics packaging can be replaced with polylactide polymer.This project assisted in expanding the PLA market by developing two new processing technologies. Both technologies yield semi-crystalline PLA articles that have improved physical properties. Other project tasks helped to better understand the relationship between polymer molecular structure and physical properties, which is useful information for improving process control.

Energy Saving of 18 Billion BTU/Year
Carbon reduction of 394 Te/Year