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December 15, 2009

Two Companies Eye Renewable Polymers

Green Chemistry: Braskem and Novomer have big plans for polymers based on renewable resources

Alexander H. Tullo

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Two firms are taking steps to add new materials to the renewable polymers lexicon. Boston-based Novomer is working with Eastman Kodak to develop the carbon dioxide-based polymer polypropylene carbonate (PPC) for packaging applications. And Braskem is working with enzymes company Novozymes on bio-based polypropylene.

Novomer was founded on the work of Cornell University chemistry professor Geoffrey W. Coates to make polymers out of carbon dioxide. The company is launching an $800,000 project, funded in part by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority, to manufacture pilot-scale quantities of PPC at a Kodak Specialty Chemicals facility in Rochester, N.Y.

Novomer plans on making enough PPC resins and films that potential customers can test them in packaging applications, according to Mike Slowik, the firm's manager of strategic planning and analysis. Novomer targets its first PPC product, NB-180, as a temporary binder for electronics. Because it breaks down into carbon dioxide and water when exposed to high temperatures, it can be burned off without a trace.

Both NB-180 and the new PPC polymer are made by polymerizing propylene oxide with carbon dioxide using a proprietary catalyst. As a packaging polymer, PPC is touted as offering unique impact resistance, stiffness, and oxygen barrier properties. Slowik claims it could replace polystyrene, polypropylene, and polyvinyl chloride in certain applications. "Over the long run," he says, "we think it can be cost competitive versus some of those petroleum-based materials."

Separately, Braskem has initiated a five-year project with Danish enzymes manufacturer Novozymes to work on a new sugarcane-based route to polypropylene. Braskem has already synthesized polypropylene from sugar-based ethanol.

Braskem is currently constructing a 200,000-metric-ton-per-year plant to make polyethylene from ethanol, to be completed next year. It recently signed contracts to sell the "green" polyethylene to the global packaging giant Tetra Pak (C&EN, Dec. 7, page 22).

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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