DuPont plans major shift to biobased feedstocks

June 24, 2013

DuPont, one of the world's largest chemical companies, says that more than half of its plastics portfolio will be made from renewable resources within 15 years.

The company is exploring new technologies to make chemical monomers for basic plastics like nylon from carbon-based resources that can be rapidly regenerated, said Lewis Manring , VP - Global

Technology VP Lewis Manring

Technology, DuPont Performance Polymers & Automotive Technologies, in an interview at DuPont's Chestnut Run research and office complex in Wilmington, DE.

"Our first preference is to use non-food-crop resources," Manring said. He did not disclose the monomers or types of technologies under investigation. 

The strategy leverages the three strategic priorities for DuPont: extend its agriculture and nutrition footprint, build biobased industrial businesses and strengthen its advanced materials positions. DuPont beefed up its capabilities in the biosciences area two years ago with the $6.3 billion acquisition of Danisco, which has two lines of business that interested DuPont: food ingredients and industrial enzymes for biofuels.

At a recent investor conference, CEO Ellen Kullman said: "Our third strategic priority is to build on our leadership position in the industrial biotechnology area and create transformational bio-based businesses in areas like biofuels and biomaterials. We will achieve this goal by leveraging world-class capabilities and critical enabling technology. These include designing and operating cell factories and microbial pathway engineering. The application development capability and market access of our advanced materials businesses, along with the value chain relationships and feedstock knowledge of our ag and nutrition businesses offer advantages for our success here."

There is an increasing convergence in biology and chemistry at DuPont, and that's an area where DuPont wants to be the global leader.

The strategy also fits into DuPont's goal to provide alternatives to fossil fuels as one of the key pillars of its business, as outlined in the recent meeting in Chestnut Run.

DuPont was unique among the major chemical companies in making a major investment in a bio-based feedstock for its plastics businesses when it joined the DuPont Tate & Lyle Bio Products joint venture in 2004. The JV opened a plant, now described as one of the largest renewable materials facilities in the world, in Loudon, TN to produce Bio-PDO propanediol from corn sugar.

Corn is transformed into sugars using enzymes developed by DuPont Genencor science. The sugars are fermented into Bio-PDO using proprietary production microorganisms developed by DuPont. The propanediol monomer is polymerized into Sorona polyester using a proprietary process.

"By pairing chemical and material sciences with biology we've created a business that's delivering $300 million in new revenue," Kullman said. "Our unique science enables enhanced performance and lower systems cost while delivering a reduced environmental portfolio."

Sorona is a hit in the carpet, apparel and personal care markets, but not so much in engineering plastics where it doesn't offer enough of a clear performance advantage at a competitive price to warrant large-scale substitutions. There have been very few announced applications for Sorona EP. At K 2010, the major triennial plastics show held in Germany, DuPont showed only two or three applications

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