Toray Succeeds in Production of Bio-Based PBT

April 25, 2013 |

Toray-PBTToray demonstrates products made from renewable PBT — another landmark step in “replacing the whole barrel of oil”.

In California, Toray Industries announced that it has successfully made a partially bio-based PBT (polybutylene terephthalate) using 1,4-butanediol (BDO) made with Genomatica’s bio-based process technology.

Toray is the first company to publicly confirm successful PBT polymerization of BDO made with Genomatica’s process technology, and was the first company, in February 2011, to make PBT ‘pellets’ using BDO made with Genomatica’s bio-based process technology.

Polybutywhat?

Yep, that’s polybutylene terephthalate, and no, it’s not a small furry animal from the Jurassic period. It’s a plastic resin found in electrical connectors and plugs, automobile parts such as switches and ignition coils, keyboard caps, bobbins, showerheads, and lately has been found in plastic chopsticks.

It has good electrical properties, mechanical properties such as tensile strength and tensile elasticity and well-balanced physical properties such as heat resistance. It’s marketed as Toraycon by Toray, Arnite (DSM), Crastin (DuPont), Pocan (Lanxess), Ultradur (BASF), Valox (SABIC Innovative Plastics) and VESTODUR (Evonik Degussa) — just to name a few industrial brands.

PBT is the second largest use worldwide for BDO, accounting for about 29% of all BDO worldwide, or about 700,000 tons per year as PBT compound. (The major use of BDO, these days, is in a dehydrated form as tertrahydrofuran where it becomes a key component in fibers such as Spandex.)

Currently, regular PBT resin is produced using petroleum-based ingredients.

BarrelWhy make PBT instead of, say, renewable gasoline?

The quick answer is that you need both. 6.8 gallons out of every 42-gallon barrel of oil go to producing “other products” — plastics, chemicals, solvents, thinners, lacquers. They’re the stuff of green chemistry, and for many people they are the living embodiment in physical products of civilization’s dependencies on the wonders of petroleum-based chemistry.

As the DOE pointed out in organizing its Biomass 2011 meeting:

“If we do not replace the whole barrel, we risk creating knock-on effects that will cause shortages or surpluses in other markets, with the attendant economic consequences. In order to effectively displace crude oil imports, biomass substitutes must be developed for gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and the other petroleum products.

If we replace only one product, such as gasoline, petroleum refineries as they are currently constituted cannot readily shift all of the displaced molecules into other products. Replacing the entire barrel of oil is critical, not only to our energy security, but to our national economy.”

That 6.8 gallons adds up quickly, by the way. If you took all the demand over a year , you could cover the state of Massachusetts with a one-inch layer of petroleum and still not have enough to meet the demand for plastics, chemicals and those “other products.”

Scale to date

This is a bench-level set of tests. Toray’s tests confirmed that PBT made using this BDO has physical properties and formability equivalent to PBT made from petroleum-derived BDO, and Toray then succeeded in making prototypes of molded components.

Toray’s plans for renewable PBT

Toray will remain a customer for, rather than a producer of BDO. The company’s strength in in employing direct polymerization using terephthalic acid and BDO as ingredients, a process it invented in 1976 and continued to develop and lead in today.

Though Toray plans to share samples of bio-based PBT with its customers during 2013 to help develop market demand, it expects to bring products to market when BDO is commercially available from one of the producers that Genomatica licenses to use its BDO process.

For Toray – why renewables?

Faced with issues in long-term oil supply, rising oil prices and increasing CO2 emissions, producing engineering plastic from renewable bio-based ingredients is a priority — and the company has developed a strong low-carbon strategy. Elsewhere in its product portfolio, it succeeded in polymerization of fully renewable bio-based PET and production fibers and films from the PET and has started working on development of bio-based nylon.

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