Manufacturing Sustainability: Green Manufacturing News


Plastic From Plants Outperforms Oil-Based Polymers

posted by William R. Stott
Published: February 10, 2009

Ingeo biopolymers from Natureworks provide an environmentally friendly alternative to standard petroleum-based polymers

NatureWorks LLC has achieved a manufacturing breakthrough with its Ingeo plastics made from plants, not oil. A new, proprietary manufacturing process commissioned late last year lowers carbon dioxide by 60 percent and reduces by 30 percent the energy required to produce Ingeo plastics compared to previous Ingeo production.

The emissions and energy reductions are even greater when Ingeo bioresin is compared to petroleum-based plastics. For example, the process of manufacturing PET (polyethylene terephthalate), the polymer most commonly used to make water and soda bottles and the mainstay of the synthetic fibers industry, emits 3.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of resin produced. By contrast, the new Ingeo manufacturing process emits 77 percent less, with 0.75 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of resin. The new Ingeo production technology also consumes 56 percent less energy than the equivalent weight of PET.

The improvement is not only over PET. Through this advanced production process, Ingeo environmentally outperforms all of the most commonly used petroleum-based plastics, including recycled PET. In determining the eco-profile for the new Ingeo technology, NatureWorks measured every significant input and output from seed planting to plastic resin being shipped through the factory’s gate.

The breakthrough in the eco-profile follows a decade-long collaborative research and development effort exploring advanced lactic acid production technologies. Research organizations included NatureWorks’ parent, Cargill, a network of biotechnology firms, universities, and government research laboratories. The effort was supported in part by grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, totaling about $25 million.

"This new production technology comes at a time when governments across the world are renewing efforts to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Steve Davies, NatureWorks director of communications and public affairs. “Since its introduction, Ingeo has satisfied a market need for performance plastics and fibers with better eco-credentials. Today, the environmental piece of this equation takes a major step forward. That’s good news for the many companies across the globe that make attractive, affordable consumer products from Ingeo plastics — everything from natural plastic food packaging and food service ware, to clothing, house wares, personal care products and consumer electronics.”

In 2005, Ingeo was the first biopolymer to reach the plastics and fibers market in commercial quantities. From 2006 through 2008, NatureWorks purchased Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to improve the biopolymer’s already solid environmental performance. With this latest Ingeo environmental and energy breakthrough, NatureWorks will no longer purchase RECs. The company will continue, however, to offer the REC option to every organization that has corporate goals for green energy use.

Davies concludes, “With even more advantages now, Ingeo plastics and fibers should be investigated by every manufacturer, brand owner, and retailer that is serious about a smart alternative to petroleum-based products.”

Companies in Europe, the Americas and Asia that are looking for greater sustainability and performance in plastics or fibers should visit the NatureWorks website www.natureworksllc.com to locate the nearest sales office. Consumers are encouraged to visit the NatureWorks website to learn more about the advantages of, and many products made from plants, not oil.