Corbion discusses feedstock sourcing, announces new brand name

By Erin Voegele | October 13, 2016

Bioplastics producer Corbion recently released a whitepaper on feedstock sourcing for bioplastics and introduced a new brand name, Luminy, which comprises the entire neat resin PLA portfolio.

Luminy was introduced Oct. 12. According to Corbion, the brand name reflects the innovative, bright nature of PLA, along with its natural, renewable origins. The portfolio includes both high-heat and standard PLA resins, tailored to the most common plastics production technologies in various molecular weights.

The whitepaper, released Oct. 3, outlines Corbion’s position on feedstock selection and covers the issues of land use, feedstock efficiency and food security. According to the company, the paper shows concerns of using biobased feedstocks for plastics can be successfully identified and managed. Corbion also said the many benefits of using biobased, renewable feedstocks outweigh the challenges associated with their use.

Within the document, Corbion calls sugar today’s most sustainable feedstock for PLA production. The company notes raw sugar extracted from sugarcane or sugar beet, or dextrose from corn starch or cassava starch are the main feedstocks currently used to produce lactic acid and its derivatives. Corbion said it predominantly utilizes the highest yielding feedstocks regionally available near its production facilities. Raw sugar from cane is used at its plants in Thailand and Brazil, while dextrose from corn is used as feedstock in its U.S. facility. In Spain and the Netherlands, raw sugar from sugar beet is the primary feedstock.

Corbion also discusses “feedstock efficiency,” noting the term describes the conversion ratio of feedstock weight to final plastic polymer weight and is a combination of a theoretical efficiency, which differs with different types of bioplastic, in combination with the production efficiencies. In terms of feedstock efficiency, the paper states PLA is one of the most efficient biopolymers, with each 1.6 kilogram of fermentable sugar yielding 1 kilogram of PLA polymer. Some other bioplastics require 2.5 to 3 times more sugar feedstock to produce the same 1 kilogram of bioplastic material. For example, the whitepaper shows it takes 4 kilograms of sugar to produce 1 kilogram of biobased polyethylene (PE), and 5 kilograms of sugar to produce 1 kilogram of biobased polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

The whitepaper also discusses Corbion’s cane sugar code, which describes its expectations for its can sugar suppliers and is based on the definitions for sustainable sugarcane and derived products set out by Bonsucro. In addition, the document addresses the use of genetically modified organism-free (GMO-free) feedstocks and discusses land use concerns, noting the land used for bioplastics does not complete with food. According to the report, bioplastics required only 0.68 million hectares of land in 2014, equating to approximately 0.01 percent of global agricultural land area. By 2019, the amount of land used in bioplastics production is expected to increase to 1.4 million hectares, or 0.02 percent of global agricultural land area.

Within the paper, Corbion also discusses the potential to use second-generation feedstocks to produce PLA. According to the company, the first step in moving to cellulosic feedstock will be the ability to extract a mix of C5 and C6 sugar from the cellulosic crops. Corbion stressed this development will have to be commercialized by a third party. The company also noted that to make C5 and C6 sugars an efficient and effective feedstock for its production process, two different technology routes could be followed. First, if a feedstock supplier was able to isolate and purify C6 sugars from a mix of C5 and C6 sugars, Corbion would be able to buy those purified C6 sugars and use them in its regular production process. While Corbion said this route would require some effort on its part, the major effort and capital investment would be from the third-party sugar supplier. Second, Corbion said it could feed an unpurified mix of C5 and C6 sugars into its fermentation process. However, this route would require research and development efforts and process optimization from Corbion. A new fermentation strain would need to be developed, along with a new production process that would require a new plant to be built. According to Corbion, it has invested significantly in both technology routes.

The whitepaper also includes a section dedicated to the benefits of using biobased plastics in consumer goods, noting the use of use of bioplastics reduces dependency on fossil fuels and supports a circular, local-for-local economy due to the many end-of-life options provided.

A full copy of the whitepaper can be downloaded from the Corbion website.