APLA: Going green ups pace

09 November 2012 11:34  [Source: ICB]

Brazil is making great strides in using sugarcane as a renewable feedstock for chemicals production and as a result is attracting a host of new investments


Copyright: Rex Features

Petrochemical companies from Braskem to Dow Chemical and Rhodia have proposed building plants in Brazil to convert crops into chemicals for products as varied as polymers, face creams and industrial lubricants.

Indeed, the business of converting crops into renewable chemicals is an attractive prospect in the country after sugar prices witnessed declines of 13% in the past year.

Of the biopolymers, bio-based polyethylene (PE) is in the most advanced stage of commercialisation. Brazil-based producer Braskem is the clear leader in the field, utilising local sugarcane-derived ethanol/ethylene as feedstock.

Braskem expects that growing demand for sustainable products should benefit bio-based PE and other renewable plastics in the upcoming years and has plans to expand production of sugar-based bio-polyolefins. Demand for biopolymers is growing by 20%/year, says Braskem.

In September 2010, Braskem achieved commercial production of bio-based high-density polyethylene (HDPE) at its plant in Triunfo, Brazil, which has a capacity of 200,000 tonnes/year. Furthermore, the company is building a 30,000-50,000 tonne/year bio-based polypropylene (PP) production plant based on ethanol, which is expected to come online in 2013. It has also researched more efficient biochemical routes through partnerships, including a link with Denmark-based enzyme company Novozymes.

Meanwhile, US-based Dow Chemical and Japan's Mitsui & Co recently created a 50:50 joint venture for a sugarcane-to-PE project in Brazil. The project will be the world's largest bio-polymers investment. The plant, with a capacity of 350,000 tonnes/year, will produce Dowlex PE resins and is expected to come online in 2015. The facility will supply the flexible packaging, hygiene and medical markets. The product is expected to be cost-competitive with petrochemical-derived PE, as the venture will own and operate the entire value chain from growing sugarcane to producing the biopolymer.

Brazil's strength is in the production of bio-based chemical feedstocks sugarcane and wood pulp, as well as a growing opportunity to raise the production of vegetable oils.

US-based WR Grace maintains that the use of renewable feedstocks is a growing trend in the global chemical industry. It has signed a multi-year agreement with Braskem to develop process technologies and catalyst solutions to produce green chemicals.

The technology to be developed under the Grace-Braskem collaboration is based on carbon sources from renewable agricultural processes.

"Brazil will produce half of the world's bio-based chemicals by 2020," said Pedro Fortes, operations director at Eastman Brazil, at the EBDQUIM conference hosted by Brazil's distributors' association Associquim and Sao Paulo state chemical association Sincoquim in April. By 2020, green chemicals will be 10% of the volume of all chemical products, and 50% of this will be produced in Brazil, he notes.

Eastman says it will explore applying newly acquired technology to produce bio-butanol for its Scandiflex plasticisers business in Brazil. Eastman bought Brazil-based Scandiflex in September 2011.

In 2011, Eastman also acquired US renewable chemicals firm TetraVitae Bioscience, which is developing bio-butanol and bio-acetone. The company could eventually use bio-butanol produced from its TetraVitae technology as a feedstock for Scandiflex plasticisers in Brazil, according to Fortes.

In April, Belgium's Solvay announced that Rhodia and the National Bioethanol Science and Technology Laboratory (CTBE) in Brazil had signed an agreement to develop bio-based chemical routes and processes and the company is studying an ethanol-based polyvinyl chloride (PVC) project.

Bio-butanol producer Cobalt Technologies said in August it is moving forward with plans to build a bagasse-based n-butanol demonstration facility in Brazil alongside its partner Rhodia, a France-based specialty chemicals company owned by Solvay. Rhodia and Cobalt started their collaboration in October 2011.

The price range is projected to be between 40% and 60% below petroleum-based n-butanol, depending on the feedstock. Cobalt's' offering is the production of low-cost n-butanol using cellulosic biomass as feedstock. 

For more information on bio-based materials, go to ICIS Chemical Business

By: Leela Landress
+1 713 525 2653

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