Biobased Chemicals East: Day 1

Day one of the Biobased Chemicals East conference gave the green blog an opportunity to hear the side of end consumer companies looking to capitalize on the use of renewable-based chemicals such as wheat straw-based polypropylene in Ford Motor’s cars; biobased surfactants on Henkel’s cleaning products; PLA-based fibers for US carpet maker Interface; and PLA-based polystyrene foam trays from Canadian manufacturer Dyne-a-Pak.

Frank Roland Schroeder of Henkel noted that among detergent feedstock, surfactant is the one that has the greatest potential to create a bio-based material. As of 2008, surfactant use in detergent application in Germany amounted to 200,000 tons, said Schroeder. Of course, the detergent market is already using other renewable-based materials such as enzymes, citrates, some of the alcohols, and carboxymethylcellulose (CMC).

The surfactant industry is already using vegetable oils like palm kernel oil and coconut oil as feedstock. Henkel also touched briefly on how the palm oil industry is trying to commit to sustainable sourcing and production of palm oil via the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) group.

Henkel is also looking at biotechnology as possible other source for biobased chemicals such as enzymes, alcohol (ethanol), organic acids and fragrance ingredients (remember Allylix?). The last topic that Schroeder mentioned is the importance of packaging materials as another way for consumer products manufacturers to utilize biobased chemicals.

Speaking of Henkel, look out for my incoming green surfactant article on October 4 from ICIS Chemical Business (it’s a free link!). Henkel’s director of biotechnology Karl-Heinz Maurer talked to me about their strategies on bio-surfactants.

Back to the conference,  Ford’s Ellen Lee brought several interesting samples of bio-based materials that the company has been working on. One is their soybean-based polyurethane foam that are now being used in seating applications for several Ford models.

Lee said the soy foam is cost neutral or sometimes even cheaper than petroleum-based foam. Around 844m bushels of soybean could be consumed just by using the soy foams on all interior foams of Ford Motor cars!

Another material presented was wheat straw polypropylene (PP) that could replace the use of fiberglass and other mineral reinforcements (such as talc and mica) in injection molding materials. Lee said, the use of wheat straw-based PP could reduce processing costs between 8-10% compared to conventional composite materials. The renewable-based materials are also lighter by 10% compared to the use of fiberglass or talc-reinforced PP.

Ford started using the wheat straw PP late last year in some of its models. Lee said they are also looking into other biobased resin as thermoplastic resin alternative like polylactic acid (PLA), DuPont’s corn-based PTT (polytrimethylene terephthalate), Mirel’s PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate), castor oil-based nylons and other natural fiber-reinforced composites.

Interface’s chief innovation officer John Bradford talked about the importance of the whole supply chain sustainability not just using renewable chemicals for consumer products. The company talked about their life cycle analysis (LCA) study on one of their carpet products comparing the use of 20% PLA to 100% nylon 6,6 usage. Interface also emphasized that sustainability helped them go through the recession as the company reported only 16% in sales decline last year compared to the 36% industry decline.

Dyne-a-Pak meanwhile is already using NatureWorks’ PLA resin for its foam tray. The compostable trays are said to be cost effective alternative to polystyrene, with the same light weight and performance in cold or room temperature applications.

Other presentations on Day 1 included Roquette talking about their isosorbide; Ontario BioAuto Council talking about current bio-based chemicals being used or developed for automotive applications; the importance of biobased guidelines in foodservice ware by the Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative (SBC) group; Itaconix’ product itaconic acid already being used in several cleaning products; and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) talking about their biopreferred program.

The Ontario BioAuto Council by the way, noted Toyota’s biomaterials targets by 2015. Toyota’s vision is to replace 20% of petro-based materials with biobased alternatives and recycled plastics in the next 5 years. Biobased chemicals include soy and corn-based polyols to replace ethylene and propylene oxide; isosorbide to replace bisphenol-A; succinic acid to replace maleic anhydride; and vegetable-oil based plastic additives to replace phthalates.

Here are some of my Day 1 coverage for ICIS News (subscription only). Pls. also check previous tweets from @ICISchemicalbiz, hashtag #ICIS.

US Ford to increase use of A Schulman’s wheat-straw PP

US-based Itaconix commercializes itaconic acid for detergents

French Roquette to expand isosorbide capacity by 2011 

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