Research project to yield cheaper bioplastic

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Polypropylene Polyethylene Thermoplastic Novozymes

Petrochemical company Braskem and enzyme producer Novozymes are to launch a research project to develop large-scale production of greener, cheaper polypropylene (PP) from sugarcane.

The two companies will be combining their technological skills to produce PP, with the initial research development scheduled to run for five years.

Denmark-based Novozymes, which also has operations in the United States and Brazil, will use its fermentation expertise to engineer a micro-organism that will act upon sugarcane to produce the plastic. Braskem will contribute its know-how in chemical technology and thermoplastics to manufacture and market the product. No financial details about the research were disclosed.

Long-term project

Polypropylene is a plastic used in a wide range of everyday products including food containers, drinking straws, and water bottles. It is the second most widely used thermoplastic with a global consumption in 2008 of 44 million metric tons. The market is estimated to be US$66 billion, with an annual growth rate of 4 per cent, said a Novozymes statement.

“The initial research project of five years will be followed by an upscaling phase in a demonstration facility,”​ a Novozymes spokeswoman told “During this phase, the enzyme will be refined to optimise output and make it more efficient.”

Only after these phases had been completed over a further period of years would large-scale production be considered. Novozymes declined to make any forecast about when this might be, saying the project was a “long-term” ​one.

Sugar the new oil

At present, the plastic is primarily derived from oil. Prices for the plastic shown great volatility recently as PP tariffs have an 88 per cent correlation with oil prices, said Novozymes. The company predicted PP from sugarcane would be a cheaper alternative than its current oil-based counterpart.

“We live in a world where oil is limited and expensive, and the chemical industry is looking for alternatives to its petroleum-based products. Novozymes’ partnership with Braskem is a move toward a green, bio-based economy, in which sugar will be the new oil,” ​said Novozymes CEO Steen Riisgaard.

Last month, Braskem announced a trial deal with packaging giant Tetra Pak to supply five tonnes of polyethylene a year for use in the manufacture of plastic closures on its cartons from 2011.

“Braskem was the first company in the world to produce a 100% certified green polypropylene on an experimental basis,”​ said Bernardo Gradin, CEO of Braskem.

He added: “The partnership with Novozymes will further boost Braskem’s technology development and be a key step in the company's path to consolidate its worldwide leadership in green polymers, all leveraged by Brazil’s competitive advantages within renewable resources.”

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