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Dow and Mitsui announce Brazilian bio-based polyolefin venture

Calling the venture the world's largest biopolymers play and Dow Chemical's biggest investment in Brazil, Dow and Mitsui & Co. Ltd. announced plans for what they say will be the world's largest integrated facility for the production of biopolymers made from renewable, sugar-cane derived ethanol.

Calling the venture the world's largest biopolymers play and Dow Chemical's biggest investment in Brazil, Dow and Mitsui & Co. Ltd. announced plans for what they say will be the world's largest integrated facility for the production of biopolymers made from renewable, sugar-cane derived ethanol. Luis Cirihal, Dow's Business Director for Green Alternatives and New Business Development for Latin America, told PlasticsToday that the first ethanol plant will have the capacity to produce 240,000 cubic meters of ethanol annually, which is equivalent to approxiately 190,000 tonnes.

As part of the deal, Mitsui would become a 50% equity interest partner in Dow's sugar cane growing operation in Santa Vitória, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Initially, the joint venture would include production of sugar cane-derived ethanol for use as a renewable feedstock source, bringing new, biomass-based feedstocks to Dow while diversifying its raw material streams from traditional fossil fuels. In 2007, Dow signed an agreement with Brazilian sugar-cane ethanol producer Crystalsev, announcing its intention at the time to pursue polyethylene from ethanol.

Cirihal said that following the global economic crisis in 2008, Crystalsev, then controlled by Santelisa Vale, switched control to the French group Louis Dreyfys Commodities (LDC), which did not want to continue the project started with Dow. At that time Dow then acquired all shares held by Crystalsev in the project of Santa Vitória Açúcar e Álcool Ltda.Dow and Mitsui's sugar cane ethanol to plastics flow chart

The primary business operation of the Dow:Mitsui company, which will still be called Santa Vitória Açúcar e Álcool Ltda., will be operation of the sugarcane field, with production and sales of bio-ethanol. The company also plans production and sales of bio-ethylene, bio-polyethylene and sugarcane derived chemicals. Mitsui's initial investment is the 50:50 joint venture is approximately $200 million.

Once fully operational, the platform would be back-integrated into renewable sugar cane, enabling environmentally sustainable production of plastics with a reduced carbon footprint. Dow says biopolymers produced at facility would represent a green "drop-in" replacement for the high-performance flexible packaging, hygiene, and medical markets.

The first phase of the project includes the building of a new sugarcane-to-ethanol production facility in Santa Vitória, with construction expected to commence in the third quarter of 2011. The transaction is expected to close before the end of 2011, pending the receipt of certain regulatory approvals.

"When complete, Dow and Mitsui will have the world’s largest integrated facility for the production of biopolymers made from renewable, sugar-cane derived ethanol," Cirihal told PlasticsToday. "This will contribute to the continued growth of Dow in Latin America and bolster the company's reputation as a world leader in sustainable chemistry." Cirihal said engineering and design assessments for the ethanol to ethylene and polyethylene production facilities are expected to commence in the second half of 2011.

Mitsui has a biomass-derived chemicals business with a stated goal of "securing a stable supply of renewable resources" and "producing low environmental impact chemicals from those resources." The Tokyo-based company said itself and Dow share a strategic business interest in biomass-derived chemicals and biopolymers in the growing Brazilian market.

Approximately one year ago, Dow and Mitsui announced today an agreement to form a 50:50 manufacturing joint venture to construct, own, and operate a new membrane chlor-alkali facility located at Dow's Freeport, TX integrated manufacturing complex.

Bigger than Braskem?

In September 2010, Brazilian plastics and petrochemical giant, Braskem, inaugurated what it called the world's largest ethylene-from-ethanol plant in the Triunfo Petrochemical Complex, with annual production capacity of 200,000 tons of green polyethylene, following an investment of almost R$500 million ($321 million).

The Brazilian petrochemical company has worked with the world's polyolefin leaders in the past, including Dow. In 2003, Braskem purchased a license from the Dow and ExxonMobil Chemical joint venture, Univation Technologies, to utilize its metallocene technology and catalysts and introduce Univation's XCAT Metallocene Catalysts into an existing UNIPOL PE plant in Camaçari, Brazil to produce both metallocene linear low-density polyethylene (mLLDPE) and metallocene very low-density polyethylene (mVLDPE). In February of this year, Braskem-Idesa, a joint venture between Braskem and Idesa, selected LyondellBasell's Lupotech T process technology for their planned 300,000-tonne LDPE (low density polyethylene) plant slated for startup in 2015 in the Mexican state of Veracruz.

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