At some point in the not-too-distant future, the factories that produce plastics may be of the single-celled, microscopic variety. And when people talk about a plant for making plastics, they may be referring to the chlorophyll-laden sort with leaves and roots.
At long last, biopolymers appear to be coming into their own. The term refers to polymers derived at least in part from biological activity, such as plant growth or bacterial fermentation—or often both. It usually also implies biodegradability and compostability, but that’s not the main point these days. What’s causing all the buzz is the idea of renewable resources and escaping dependence on fossil fuels.
Biopolymers will be highlighted as one of the key New Technologies for plastics at NPE. Recent headlines tell why: BASF is coming out with its first bioplastic. Archer Daniels Midland and Metabolix are building a 100-million-lb plant to ferment plastics from corn. Urethane foams are being made from vegetable oils. NatureWorks LLC has had international success with corn-derived PLA polymer in packaging. Japanese firms are using PLA and other biopolymers to make cellphone and computer housings and auto interior parts. The New York Times reports that DuPont is betting the farm, so to speak, on “looking to displace fossil fuels as building blocks of chemicals,” such as its Sorona PTT polyester, which will be made from corn.
Before Iowa and Kansas can displace OPEC, there’s a lot to be learned about the new agri-polymers. That’s why Plastics Technology and Polymer Process Communications will present the Bioplastics Processing Conference Dec. 5-6 in Charlotte, N.C. Anyone wishing to submit a paper for consideration should e-mail Jim Callari, program director and publisher of this magazine, at email@example.com.