NatureWorks: Biofuels Digest’s 2015 5-Minute Guide

March 16, 2015 |

5-Minute-Guide-logoNatureWorks LLC is the first company to offer a family of commercially available, low-carbon-footprint Ingeo lactides and biopolymers derived from 100 percent annually renewable resources with performance and economics that compete with oil-based intermediates, plastics, and fibers, and provide brand owners new cradle-to-cradle options after the use of their products. NatureWorks is an independent company invested in by Thailand’s largest chemical producer, PTT Global Chemical, and Cargill, an international producer and marketer of food, agricultural, financial, and industrial products and services.

The company’s manufacturing facility, located in Blair, Nebraska, has a name plate capacity of 300 million pounds (140,000 metric tons) of Ingeo biopolymer. The plant came online in 2002.  In 2003, NatureWorks built the world’s largest lactic acid manufacturing facility to feed our polymer plant.

Model: 

Owner-operator

The Situation: 

NatureWorks has seen steady 25- to 30-percent increases in annual product demand. In the last three years, NatureWorks doubled its Ingeo supply availability by bringing online additional production capacity at its Blair, Neb., processing facility.

To maintain growth rates, NatureWorks is making significant investments and signing partnerships aimed at Asia — at the forefront, a PTT Chemical investment supporting NatureWorks’ intent to globalize its Ingeo manufacturing capability by building a new production facility in Thailand, with  new plant coming online in Thailand this year.

Feedstock diversification was at the heart an an announce that Calysta Energy and NatureWorks entered into an exclusive, multi-year collaboration to research and develop a practical, world-scale production process for fermenting methane — a potent greenhouse gas (GHG) — into lactic acid, the building block for Ingeo, lactide intermediates and polymers made from renewable materials. If the collaboration results in the successful commercialization of this first-of-its-kind technology, the cost to produce Ingeo would be structurally lowered, and the wide range of Ingeo based consumer and industrial products could be produced from an even broader set of carbon-based feedstocks, complementary to what is already in use by NatureWorks.

To that end, the US DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office announced a grant of up to $2.5 million to NatureWorks, one of the world’s leading suppliers of bioplastics, in support of an ongoing program that aims to sequester and use methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as a feedstock for the company’s Ingeo™ biopolymers and intermediates. The grant supports the ongoing multi-year joint development program between NatureWorks and Calysta.

Currently, Ingeo relies on carbon from CO2 feedstock that has been fixed or sequestered through photosynthesis into simple plant sugars, known as “first generation materials.” NatureWorks’ flagship facility in Blair, Neb., uses industrially sourced corn starch, while its second facility currently in planning for a location in Southeast Asia will use cane sugar.

In parallel with the collaboration, NatureWorks is continuing its broad technology assessment of “second generation” cellulosic sources of carbon. In the case of Southeast Asia, opportunities exist for harvesting cellulosic sugars from bagasse, an abundant lignocellulosic byproduct of sugarcane processing.

Past Milestones:

In December 2014, NatureWorks and Northern Technologies International announced a collaboration for the sales of Ingeo, a bioplastic that can be used for rigid and flexible packaging, foodservice ware, and more. The sales will be focused in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Under this new agreement, NatureWorks is supporting Natur-Tec India’s sales efforts by participating in joint sales meetings with multi-national corporations, providing technical expertise and marketing support, and supplying resin in bulk for distribution by Natur-Tec India. Natur-Tec and NatureWorks will also be working with regulatory agencies on waste reduction demonstration projects.

In August 2014, NatureWorks Asia Pacific, a joint venture between PTT Global Chemical (PTTGC) and based Cargill, requested the Thai government to provide $78.2 million in soft loans to help jumpstart the bio-plastics industry in the country. Those loans would then spur 40 times the investment from the private sector within the next five to 10 years, 75% of that in upstream production projects.

In December 2013, NatureWorks and 3Dom Filament Limited, a new technology startup with extensive Ingeo PLA technical experience, are supporting the rapidly growing 3D printing industry by combining the latest NatureWorks’ Ingeo PLA resins with 3Dom’s state-of-the-art filament manufacturing processes. Ireland based 3DOM Filament Limited is an independent company newly formed to supply Ingeo filament to the additive manufacturing market.

In March 2012, Metabolix announced that it granted a non-exclusive license to NatureWorks LLC for the U.S. patent No. 5,883,199, titled “Polylactic Acid-based Blends,” to make, use and sell blends of polylactic acid (PLA) with certain other polymers including polybutylene succinic polymers (PBS). The University of Massachusetts Lowell is the owner of the ‘199 patent, and Metabolix, Inc. is the exclusive licensee in the relevant field. NatureWorks and the biochemicals company BioAmber recently announced a joint venture which will support NatureWorks in bringing to market new performance Ingeo polymer compositions.

In February 2012, NatureWorks and BioAmber announced the creation of their AmberWorks joint venture to bring new performance bio-based polymer compositions to market. NatureWorks brings to the joint venture a global commercial presence, established customer relationships, developed applications across a breadth of industries and deep experience in commercializing new-to-the-world polymers. BioAmber owns PLA/PBS compounding intellectual property and applies award-winning biotechnology and chemical processing to produce renewable chemicals.

In October 2011, PTT Chemical revealed that it was investing $150 million in NatureWorks.

PTT Chemical’s investment in NatureWorks, until now wholly owned by Cargill, is subject to regulatory approval.

Future Milestones:

Opening of Asia-Pac plant

Competitive edge

NatureWorks now offers three new Ingeo high performance biopolymer grades designed for injection molding and extrusion applications. They will allow formulations comparable in performance to engineering thermoplastics at a cost lower than any previous high-biobased content polymers on the market.

These new Ingeo grades allow faster cycle times and production rates, a 15°C improvement in heat deformation temperature, and a three-to-four fold increase in bulk crystallization rate. NatureWorks expects to see these new high performance Ingeo grades in applications such as consumer durable and semi-durable products as well as food service ware such as cutlery and hot cup lids. Compounders can use their expertise to introduce durables with the highest bio content ever achieved on this cost-effective commercial scale.

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