US Elevance starts supplying C18 diacid for new nylons , PU

17 September 2013 11:00  [Source: ICIS news]

By Al Greenwood

HOUSTON (ICIS)--US-based Elevance Renewable Sciences has started selling octadecanedioic acid (ODDA), a C18 diacid that could allow a new family of nylon resins to reach the market as well as new types of polyurethanes, the company said on Tuesday.

Elevance started making ODDA from starting materials made at its new biorefinery in Gresik, Indonesia. Elevance built the biorefinery using its technology in a joint venture with Wilmar International.

Diacids are one of the two building blocks for nylons, the other being diamines. For nylon 6,6, each monomer has six carbon atoms. Other nylon resins include nylon 4,6 and nylon 6,12.

With ODDA, the diacid has 18 carbon atoms, said Celene DiFrancia, platform leader, engineered polymers and coatings for Elevance.

"There is an entire family of polyamides that can be created, as you change the diamine from 4 all the way up," she said. "You have an entire suite of polymers that can be made."

Moreover, diamines can be made from the C18 diacid, she said. As a result, a C18 diamine can be reacted with the existing family of diacids.

There already has been a lot of evaluation on nylons made from C18 diacids, and the resins' performance has been documented, DiFrancia said. In the past, however, limited supplies have prevented the nylons from entering the market.

These C18 nylons should lead to new applications, especially for automobiles, where producers are using nylon resins to replace heavier metals, DiFrancia said.

Automobile producers are eager to make lighter vehicles so they can meet stricter emission and fuel-efficiency standards.

"These high performance, longer chained polyamide products are a fast-growing sector in the engineered polymers industry," said Andy Shafer, Elevance executive vice president for sales and market development.

The addition of a new suite of nylons will give automobile producers another material that could help them make even lighter vehicles.

Nylons made with C18 diacids are generally tougher with improved hydrolytic stability, meaning they are less likely to react with water, DiFrancia said. The resins also have better optical clarity.

It is not just metals that these new nylons could replace. Because of their properties, the nylons could also replace materials that are more difficult to fabricate, Shafer said.

Nor are the nylons' uses limited to automobile parts. They could also be used to make electronics and sporting equipment.

Because the nylon will have renewable content, it will also help companies meet sustainability goals, Shafer said.

Elevance's C18 diacid can also be used as a feedstock for polyester polyols, a feedstock for polyurethanes.

Early uses could be in thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPUs) and cast elastomers, although additional applications are possible in the future, DiFrancia said.

These polyurethanes have toughness and good resistance to solvents, Difrancia said. That resistance makes the material good for durable containers.

Likely end markets for these polyurethanes include automotive, food service and medical applications, the company said.

C18 diacids have been made in the past, but only in very limited quantities from a fermentation process, DiFrancia said.

By contrast, Elevance relies on a catalysed metathesis reaction that uses vegetable oils and butene as feedstock to make biorefinery products, which are then metathised again to create the resulting C18 diacid that is pure enough for polymers, Shafer said.

To meet early demand for ODDA, Elevance will manufacture the diacid using a toll-processing approach, DiFrancia said.

Smaller initial volumes and toll processing will give ODDA a higher initial cost than other mid-chain diacids, she said. However, that cost should drop as demand increases.

Ultimately, Shafer said Elevance could build a world-scale plant for the material. For a product such as ODDA, capacity for such a plant would be 10,000-20,000 tonnes/year.

Elevance's products are not limited to diacids. The company's technology allows it to produce such products as C10-C20 olefins, C16-C18 saturated esters or C10-C15 unsaturated esters.

These products are a key part of the Elevance's strategy. Instead of producing biofuels or renewable versions of existing products such as polyethylene (PE), Elevance is producing speciality chemicals that provide the resulting materials with unique qualities.

The company's di-functional unsaturated esters had been available only in lab-sized quantities priced at thousands of dollars. Elevance is producing these chemicals in commercial quantities and profitably selling them at dollars per kilogram.

Earlier this year, the Elevance and Wilmar joint venture began shipping product from its new 180,000 tonne/year biorefinery in Indonesia.

The plant can be expanded to 360,000 tonnes/year.

Elevance is developing a second biorefinery in Natchez, Mississippi.

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By: Al Greenwood
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