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NatureWorks invests in PLA plant, plans additional injection molding grades, lactide intermediates

Bioplastic supplier NatureWorks LLC (Minnetonka, MN) says a "major" capital investment at its Blair, NE manufacturing facility will broaden its processing capabilities allowing it to produce additional grades suited to the injection molding and fiber/nonwovens markets.

(Minnetonka, MN) says a "major" capital investment at its Blair, NE manufacturing facility will broaden its processing capabilities allowing it to produce additional grades suited to the injection molding and fiber/nonwovens markets. NatureWorks, which has launched 16 commercial grades of its Ingeo polylactic acid (PLA) resin over the last 10 years, said samples of the new polymers and lactide intermediates that will result from the investment will be available in 2012 with commercial sales starting by 2013. The company previously doubled capacity at the plant from 150 million to 300 million lb in 2009.

NatureWorks said in a release that the new Ingeo grade for injection molding will allow faster cycle times and, therefore, higher production rates. The crystallization rate of the material had slowed cycle times to date. The company said it will also assess new market and application opportunities for Ingeo in thermoforming, film extrusion, injection stretch blowmolding, and formed extrusion.

NatureWorks said the investment is a reflection of its strategy to build a base load for its Nebraska plant as the first priority, keeping the company focused on being price competitive in high-volume applications. NatureWorks CEO Marc Verbruggen said the rapid growth of his company's Ingeo business is confirmation that they have achieved that goal. "From a competitive standpoint, it is far easier to expand further in markets such as injection molding and nonwovens from a broadly successful market base, supported by high-volume production," Verbruggen said, "than to try to expand into high-volume market segments from a smaller high-production-cost manufacturing base. This niche-focused, high-production-cost scenario is the position in which many other biopolymer suppliers, some of them direct competitors of ours, find themselves in today."

By expanding its lactide intermediate offerings, NatureWorks believes it can broaden the use of lactide intermediates in polymers, resin additives/modifiers, adhesives, coatings, elastomers, surfactants, and solvents.

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