Polymers From Biofuels

Furanics: Bio-based polymers from Avantium
Furanics: Bio-based polymers from Avantium
(cc) Avantium

Biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel aren’t just for burning. Like their petrochemical counterparts, biofuels made from biomass can be used to produce polymers. While for most of us the word “polymer” may bring to mind plastic, there’s much more to these large carbon-based molecules.

Now, two leaders in the field of sustainable materials, NatureWorks and Avantium, are working together to more fully understand the properties and commercial potential of a new generation of polymers made from renewable resources.

The partnership is based on Avantium’s work in deriving monomers and polymers from non food biomass and on NatureWorks success in developing a wide range of end markets and products for its Ingeo biopolymer. Avantium calls this class of bio-based polymers Furanics, and the companies believe this new class of products for both biofuels and plastics holds important promise because of the potential efficiencies in production, the wide availability and diversity of sources for biomass, and the versatility and performance of end products.

Initially, NatureWorks will be conducting in-house testing of a selection of Avantium’s polymers for a range of applications, such as personal electronics, automotive, fibers, and other engineering plastics applications. The testing period is expected to last approximately one year. This collaboration will clear the way for the market introduction of this new generation of bio-based polymers, which may take several years, and which would be complimentary to NatureWorks existing Ingeo portfolio.

“We believe it is incumbent on us to investigate tomorrow’s potential solutions beginning today,” said Marc Verbruggen, president and CEO of NatureWorks. “For example, development of NatureWorks Ingeo biopolymer began in the 1990s. Avantium’s work to date is impressive, and we look forward to a productive joint collaboration.”

“Our new partnership with NatureWorks will provide us with highly relevant insights into the potential of Furanics in a wide range of applications,” said Tom van Aken, CEO of Avantium. “NatureWorks’ experience in commercializing new polymers combined with our proprietary technology may result in a new sustainable alternative to petroleum based products. This agreement is an important step towards the commercialization of our Furanics bioplastics.”

Of course, natural polymers have been in use for centuries in the form of shellac, amber, and natural rubber. But if NatureWorks and Avantium succeed in their research, we’ll move one step closer to a whole new range of products made from renewable sources.

Read Biofuels and Bioenergy: Processes and Technologies from Amazon.