Making packaging plastics from plants instead of petroleum can now translate into even more dramatic reductions in both carbon-dioxide emissions and energy usage than previously thought possible, according to results of an extensive study conducted by the Minneapolis, Minn.-headquartered bioresins producer NatureWorks LLC.
The joint research, said to be a US$25-million effort undertaken by NatureWorks, its parent company Cargill, and a network of biotechnology firms, universities, and government research laboratories, has yielded a proprietary new manufacturing process that lowers CO2 emissions generated in production of the NatureWorks’ Ingeo plastics—already widely used for packaging food, beverages and some consumer electronics—by 60 per cent from the previous production process, while also lowering energy consumption by 30 per cent.
“This new production technology comes at a time when governments across the world are renewing efforts to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions,” says NatureWorks director of communications Steve Davies.
“Since its introduction, Ingeo has satisfied a market need for performance plastics and fibers with better eco-credentials,” says Davies, crediting an inhouse “manufacturing breakthrough” for the vastly improved eco-profile of the Ingeo plastics and fibers, which are used in clothing, houseware, and personal-care products such as diapers and wipes.
“Today, the environmental piece of this equation takes a major step forward,” states Davies. “That’s good news for the many companies across the globe that produce attractive, affordable consumer products from Ingeo plastics—everything from natural plastic food packaging and foodservice ware to clothing, housewares, personal-care products and consumer electronics.”
Compared to petroleum-based plastics, the conventional process of manufacturing PET (polyethylene terephthalate)—the polymer most commonly used to make water and soda bottles, as well as synthetic fibers—emits 3.4 kilograms of CO2 per kilogram of resin produced, according to NatureWorks. By contrast, the new Ingeo manufacturing process emits 77 per cent less, totaling 0.75-kilogram of CO2 per kilogram of resin.
In addition, the new Ingeo production technology also consumes 56 per cent less energy than the equivalent weight of PET, according to the research findings.
In 2005, Ingeo became the first biopolymer to reach the plastics and fibers market in commercial quantities, and from 2006 through 2008 the company proceeded to purchase the so-called RECs (Renewable Energy Credits) as part of an effort to further improve the biopolymer’s environmental performance.