Manufacturing process flowchart for Sorona made from glucose extracted from crops.
DuPont (Wilmington, DE) sees a clear route to helping the planet through the use of high-performance bioplastics for packaging and other end-use products including textiles and engineering plastics.
That’s no small task, yet one the company has both embraced and recorded notable milestones. For example, the company’s breakthrough Bio-PDO compound turns a formerly chemical process into an eco-efficient biological one. DuPont’s commitment to innovative biomaterials aims to revolutionize the materials’ landscape, specifically in packaging. In March, the company’s continued commitment to R&D in innovative biomaterial solutions earned it “Bio-based Materials Company of the Year” recognition by research firm Frost & Sullivan.
PlasticsToday caught up with DuPont’s Michael Saltzberg, PhD, who is global business director of Biomaterials at DuPont Industrial Biosciences, in this Q&A.
What can you say about DuPont's emphasis on "performance-based innovation?"
Saltzberg: Innovation in Biomaterials can take the form of process innovation to make the same product/molecule in a more environmentally friendly way, or it can be the development of new materials with superior technical performance as compared to incumbent petro-based materials. We define “performance-based innovation” as bringing both sorts of innovation—better performing products made with more environmentally friendly processes and materials.
Why are markets market ripe for biomaterial developments?
Saltzberg: One of the “holy grails” of plastic packaging has been a viable passive barrier solution that would allow the light-weighting of plastic packages and/or expansion of plastic packaging into applications that currently require metal or glass packaging due to barrier requirements.
We have found strong interest from both converters and brands in this new material, and are currently working under confidential Joint Development Agreements with key potential customers.
What is “Sorona” and how does that relate to Bio-PDO?
Saltzberg: Bio-PDO is a molecule called 1,3 propanediol made using a proprietary DuPont fermentation process. Sorona is DuPont’s brand name for a polymer made from Bio-PDO and terepthalic acid; the generic name for Sorona is triexta, which is used across applications for textiles and carpet.
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Is Bio-PDO patented?
Saltzberg: DuPont’s process to make Bio-PDO is patented, but the molecule itself is not. Sorona is a polymer with a unique set of properties and attributes as compared to other polymers. In some applications, notably carpet, it competes directly with nylon. In other applications, Sorona competes with other synthetic and natural fibers.
What is the source feedstock and how is it supplied to customers?
Saltzberg: Bio-PDO is a liquid made from industrial dent corn sugar using a fermentation process. Sorona is made from Bio-PDO and terepthalic acid, which is in turn derived from petroleum. Sorona is typically supplied as polymer pellets that can be extruded into fibers, films and molded parts.
What are the advantages of Sorona?
Saltzberg: Sorona can be made into fiber with unique softness, stretch, and stain resistance that provides excellent value in apparel and carpet applications.
For packaging applications, DuPont is working together with Archer Daniels Midland (Decatur, IL) on a new monomer, furan dicarboxylic methyl ester (FDME). When made into polymers in combination with Bio-PDO and/or other monomers, FDME provides breakthrough carbon dioxide and oxygen barrier properties particularly suitable for beverage and food packaging. (See DuPont and ADM’s FDME technology earns 2016 ‘Breakthrough’ award, published December 2016).
What’s the market status in packaging?
Saltzberg: For packaging, Sorona has found some limited applications in films. For FDME, DuPont is working in collaboration with ADM to build a demonstration plant that will come on stream in 4Q of this year. If the project remains on track, we would expect the commercial plant to be constructed and operational in 2021.
What are potential uses for FDME in packaging?
Saltzberg: We expect that furan-based polymers made from FDME will find applications in rigid packaging applications where good barrier properties for carbon dioxide and oxygen are important such as carbonated soft drinks, beer, carbonated water, and fresh juices. We also expect them to find use in film-based application where barrier properties are important, for example in meat and cheese packaging.
What’s next in biomaterials?
Saltzberg: FDME and polymers made from it are what’s next from DuPont in Biomaterials for Packaging. We are driving to commercialize this material and expect further announcements as development proceeds. We are targeting 2021 for commercialization, although there is much work to do between now and then.