InterviewNatureWorks to use cellulosic feedstocks in 5-10 years

11 December 2008 12:33  [Source: ICIS news]

NatureWorks plant in Blair, NebraskaLONDON (ICIS news)--NatureWorks expects to start using cellulosic feedstocks for its bioplastics production in five to ten years, chief executive Marc Verbruggen said late on Wednesday.

The company, a 50:50 joint venture between US agricultural group Cargill and Japanese fibres and chemicals maker Teijin, produces the bioplastic polylactic acid (PLA) from corn feedstock in Blair, Nebraska, US.

Verbruggen said he believed the future for bioplastics, like biofuels, would be based on cellulosic biomass.

Using cellulosic feedstocks for bioplastics and biofuels production avoids competition with food crops.

It would also allow increased volumes of bioplastics and improve the competitivity of PLA versus fossil fuel-based plastics, Verbruggen said. 

“The use of cellulose is probably five to ten years away,” he told ICIS in a telephone interview. “But clearly that is the direction the industry is going in. At that point, I think we will become extremely cost competitive with oil-based products.”

“We’re looking at cellulosic feedstock, making sure we are ready for the future,” he added.

In the shorter term, NatureWorks could build a second plant based on an alternative first generation feedstock, such as sugar cane, said Verbruggen. The company’s second plant could be located in Europe, South America or Asia, depending on the availability of feedstock, he suggested.

The US was a less attractive option from a risk management point of view, considering the impact of exchange rates fluctuations, he said. Building a second plant outside the US would place production closer to international markets, he added.

“Whether production is based on sugar cane or tapioca or corn, we see that as the first step in the evolution of bioplastics. Ultimately, the next step has to use cellulose, which is linked to having much higher volumes,” Verbruggen stressed.

NatureWorks is doubling the capacity of its PLA plant in Blair to 140,000 tonne/year. Stage one, raising capacity from 70,000 tonne/year to 90,000 tonnes/year has already been completed, and stage two would be completed in the first quarter of 2009, Verbruggen said. Full production was expected to begin in April, he added.

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By: Anna Jagger
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