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Sustainable polymer supply
Sustainable sourcing is a big driver for major brand owners worldwide and they have set up the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative with standards that suppliers are expected to adhere to, and this will apply for bio-sourced polymers plus the additional remit not to affect food security. How can the green credentials be certified? The ISCC has set up a system for bio and non-bio feedstock. Polymer companies involved with green chemistry understand that the life cycle analysis gives valuable insight and Solvay has looked at bio-based PVC for potential development in Brazil using the University of Ghent to carry out the LCA research.
Chemical engineers have been working to develop economically viable routes to specific monomers and polymers and there is a wide range of research and innovation from the major petrochemical companies looking to get a foothold in the developing bio-chemical industry including BP and Neste Oil.
At the same time forestry and agricultural companies with existing chemical and fermentation systems are looking to supply new markets, like Croda with building blocks for elastomers and high performance plastics, SP Processum in Sweden (wood-sourced) and Roquette in France, which has the biggest bio-refinery in Europe. New companies are moving forwards with specific innovations. Rennovia is producing bio-based intermediates for polyamide 6,6 and polyurethane polyols, while Vencorex in France has the world's first bio-sourced isocyanates for polyurethane.
Universities and research institutes are taking the lead in testing new synthesis pathways: Osaka University has investigated routes to monomers from plant oils and the University of Bologna has found phenols from natural sources (one of which could replace bisphenol A in epoxy coatings). In Singapore, the Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences has routes to green polyamides with adipic acid from biomass. From Germany, BASF has a new company producing succinic acid: Succinity GmbH has reviewed the outlook for this bio-based chemical. Similarly, Corbion Purac already has production technology for organic acid monomers.
Meanwhile the end users and manufacturers of plastics and elastomers, particularly the brand owners and companies listed in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, are watching the market developments to find drop-in substitute materials that have genuine "green" credentials. There are many already on the market. The Polyplex Company in India is manufacturing bio-based PET films, Lanxess Elastomers is selling the world's first bio-based EPDM rubber and Arkema offers a range of bio-based polyamides. The Taiwan Textile Research Institute has reviewed the new bio-based products like polyamide available from the local region. These new materials must be available in sufficient quantities, for example an automotive or packaging application worldwide will require substantial amounts of polymer.
There is the chance to use waste products as a source of chemical precursors. Companies could close the loop with full chemical recycling of waste plastics back into virgin plastics: Manchester University has recently patented an enhanced feedstock recycling process. Another source of carbon feedstock is waste water and this is a topic of research at the waste management company Veolia.
There are exciting innovations coming in the pipeline as chemists and engineers have found new sources to make many of the basic thermoplastics, thermosets and elastomers. These will be discussed at AMI's Green Polymer Chemistry 2014, which brings together industry and applied research to find a profitable, sustainable way forward for everyone.
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