One of the salient points emerging in all of the discussions about bioplastics is that brand owners and plastics processors are keen to lower their carbon footprint, be more environmentally conscious and in general do the right thing, but the new materials need to be cost-competitive and offer sufficient mechanical properties, and be available in sufficient quantities. For those reasons, many market insiders predict the most successful bioplastics in the coming years will be those that are, in effect, standard thermoplastics derived from renewable resources instead of petrochemicals.
Some of these materials already are commercially available, for instance the polyethylene supplied by Braskem in which the ethylene is derived from sugar cane. Now, three companies - Total Petrochemicals, IFP Energies nouvelles (IFPEN) and its subsidiary Axens -have announced an alliance with the objective to develop a technology for the production of ethylene by dehydration of ethanol. The quality of the monomers produced is to be in line with modern derivative production processes so that it is suitable for production of polyethylene (PE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polystyrene (PS), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) in existing unmodified downstream polymerization installations.
The three will base their work on plastics supplier Total's proprietary catalyst development. The bio-ethylene to be made from renewable resources will be made with lower energy consumption and lower CO2 emissions that standard ethylene, say the companies. IFPEN is a research, industrial innovation and training center active in the fields of energy, transport and the environment, and its Axens is focused on the conversion of oil, coal, natural gas and biomass to clean fuels as well as production and purification of major petrochemical intermediates.
Within the agreement, Total will continue its work on the optimization of the catalyst formulation at its research center in Feluy, Belgium. IFPEN will complete the process development at its site in Lyon, France. Axens will finalize this development and prepare the technology for commercialization by ensuring the industrial catalyst manufacturing and by providing all process licensing related services to Total Petrochemicals and other potential customers worldwide. It is expected that the technology will be ready for industrial implementation in late 2011.