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NatureWorks and BioAmber make AmberWorks; Lanxess announces BioAmber plasticizer investment

AmberWorks, the new U.S.-based bioplastics joint venture created by polylactic acid (PLA) producer NatureWorks and bio-succinic acid producer BioAmber, combines the strengths of both these companies to form an entity tasked with developing a new family of bio-based compounded polymer solutions.

Compounded PLA/PBS resin grades, developed and manufactured by AmberWorks, will be marketed exclusively through the NatureWorks global commercial organization as new and distinct solutions within the company's Ingeo portfolio of products. The new blends will offer enhanced performance in terms of flexibility, toughness, heat resistance, and good drop-in processability on existing manufacturing equipment compared to current Ingeo materials.

"The properties of PLA and PBS are complementary and making Ingeo compounds using both materials will result in a broad and attractive property profile for a number of different applications," says Marc Verbruggen, president and chief executive officer, NatureWorks.

NatureWorks is already offering samples of developmental blended grades aimed at thermoforming and injection-molding processes and designed for food service ware applications. Based on market interest, further formulated solutions optimized for a number of different applications beyond food service will be assessed over the coming 12 to 24 months.

"The AmberWorks JV builds on BioAmber's core business: the production of cost competitive, renewable chemicals that include succinic acid and 1,4-butanediol," said Jean-Francois Huc, president and chief executive officer, BioAmber. "Our novel PBS compounding technology has enabled us to forward integrate into polymers and our partnership with NatureWorks, the global market leader in biopolymers, will strengthen and accelerate market access for our growing portfolio of renewable solutions."

Complementary properties

Steve Davies, global marketing director NatureWorks, told PlasticsToday that the PLA and PBS materials are quite complementary in their properties.

"Each polymer is everything the other is not," Davies said. Where PLA behaves like a styrenic polymer, PBS is more like a polyolefin, with the former being rigid, stiff and clear, while the latter is soft, flexible and opaque. The companies hope compounds of the two can create new grades of performance polymers.

Initially, Davies said the JV will come to market with two grades, one for thermoforming and one for injection molding, targeting food service ware, with food-contact approval already in place. That's an application space that NatureWorks has been in for more than a decade, but the company is hoping the new collaboration will open up more doors down the road.

"Longer term, the whole point is to get into a broader application set," Davies said. "We can tweak, adjust and cover more properties."

NatureWorks had long avoided getting into the compounding of its flagship Ingeo PLA, leaving that to companies in the marketplace. Davies said the JV will not seek to compete with those compounders already working with PLA, saying that AmberWorks will instead focus on making compounds that are "hitherto unaddressed."

Bioplasticizer deal with Lanxess

Shortly after announcing the deal with NatureWorks, global engineering polymer company, Lanxess, announced that it would invest $10 million in BioAmber. The two companies have developed phthalate-free plasticizers, with market entry expected later this year. In addition, both companies said they are in talks to extend their partnership into further product areas in the future.

As part of the investment, Lanxess has also received a minority  shareholding stake in BioAmber and a seat on its Board of Directors, which will be filled by Jorge Nogueira, head of Lanxess' Functional Chemicals business unit that manufactures phthalate-free plasticizers. BioAmber was founded in October 2008 and has 40 full-time employees.
Lanxess already acquired UNITEX Chemical (Greensboro, NC), giving it 50,000 tonnes/yr of additional capacity, plus an extensive portfolio of phthalate-free plasticizers such as benzoates, citrates and sulfonamides. Lanxess says that the global market for phthalate-free plasticizers is currently estimated at EUR 1.3 billion, with annual growth rates of around 7%.

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