February 23, 2007
Growing with the speed of its wheat, corn, tapioca, and potato starch feedstocks, biobased plastics supplier Cereplast Inc. (Hawthorne, CA) is in the middle of an expansion, growing from the 8000 sq ft it occupied at its start when it was called Nat-ur, to more than 50,000 sq ft today. When MPW visited in mid February, the company was in the process of moving its offices to a new, adjacent building, which will also offer distribution from eight loading docks. It plans to furnish and decorate the space with 100% green materials.
“So we’re going one step further to show that not only do we make bioresin but also, in fact, we are completely environmental,” Frederic Scheer, Cereplast CEO, explains.
Being completely environmental also means adding an industrial mixer, which will combine the elements of Cereplast’s bioresins and, by Scheer’s estimate, take up some 20,000 sq ft, requiring the expansion.
The company currently has three production lines, all Coperion twin-screw co-rotating extruders, with two 75-mm units and a 65-mm machine. The total plant capacity is 55 million lb/yr, but Scheer is looking into larger compounding lines that would take hourly production capacity per machine from 3000 lb/hr to around 10,000 to 15,000 lb/hr. Within five years, Scheer’s goal is to have company-wide capacity at 1 billion lb, through joint ventures and acquisitions in the U.S. and abroad.
“Right now we’re in the top five [bioresin companies], because there are probably 10 in total,” Scheer explains. “I believe 10 years from now, there will be 1000 companies doing this, so if we still want to be in the top five, we better keep going.”
Cereplast has only been shipping resins to customers since the fourth quarter of 2006. Clients include Alcoa, Genpak, Custom Plastic, and Solo, and in that short time span, Scheer says Cereplast has grown well in excess of the 20% expansion enjoyed industry-wide in bioresins.
The company currently has 14 grades in its portfolio, with four for injection molding, four for thermoforming, two for blowmolding, two for blown film, one for extrusion coating, and one for profile extrusion. Cereplast also has six patents, with three related to starch; two for compounding polylactic acid and copolyester; and one covering the dispersion of nanomaterials in bioresins—a research project it has undertaken with the University of Valencia in Spain to add barrier properties to bioresins.
Scheer says the key to the company’s expansion is diversification in feedstocks, drawing from four starches sources, instead of just corn, which has grown tighter in supply and higher in price due to the push for ethanol as a gasoline additive in the U.S. The company also aims to create materials that process like and are priced at levels similar to their petrochemical cousins. Scheer says Cereplast resins go for as low as $0.58/lb, up to $1.45/lb, depending on the application.—[email protected]
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