NatureWorks: Biofuels Digest’s 2014 5-Minute Guide

April 2, 2014 |

NatureWorks 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 jointly owned 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.

Model: 

Owner-operator

The Situation: 

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

PTT Chemical’s investment supports NatureWorks intent to globalize its Ingeo manufacturing capability by building a new production facility in Thailand, supporting the Asian customer base. NatureWorks anticipates bringing the new plant online in 2015.

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.

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.

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 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.

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 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.

n 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.

Future Milestones:

Opening of Asia-Pac plant

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