Making a Dent

Toyota banks on bio PET
By Bryan Sims | December 02, 2010

Although most plastic components found in today’s automobiles are petroleum-derived, serious efforts are underway worldwide to mass-produce renewable alternatives to complement, or some day substitute, them. 

Greencol Taiwan Corp., a 50/50 joint venture between China Man-Made Fiber Corp. and Toyota Tsusho Corp., the trading arm of Toyota Group, is building a 100,000 metric ton biobased ethylene facility in Kaoshiung, Taiwan. Using ethylene as a building block molecule, GTC will produce biobased monoethylene glycol, a monomer that’s used with purified terephthalic acid to make polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The ethylene plant will feed existing ethylene oxide and ethylene glycol plants at the site, which have been transferred from Man Made China Corp. to the GTC joint venture. Wilmington, N.C.-based Chemtex International Inc. will engineer and build the plant while Petron Scientech Inc. is the process technology provider.

Specifically, Toyota Tsusho will manage the upstream and downstream aspects of the project, including supplying the facility with sugarcane-derived ethanol imported from Brazil as feedstock, production of biobased monoethylene glycol (MEG) and market it from GTC to various PET manufacturers where it will off-take the biobased PET on a tolling basis, to be sold to end users in Japan, Europe and the U.S.

As the final application for its biobased PET, Toyota Tsusho intends to sell biobased PET-derived textiles for vehicle interiors and resins for beverage bottles, including using bio PET for vehicle interiors developed together with Toyota Motor Corp. GTC says it has received all the necessary environmental approvals to go ahead with the project, which is anticipated to come online by first quarter 2012.

“GTC will become the first domestic manufacturing company that will produce bioethylene derivatives,” says GTC chairman Kyle Wang. “High-purity bioethylene oxide is a main intermediate chemical for the production of a variety of surfactants, and bioethylene glycol is a major raw material for antifreeze and PET pellets and filaments.”

According to Toyota Tsusho, the world demand for PET stood at 45 million tons in 2009. “We expect the growth ratio of PET demand will be around 8 percent per annum due to new demand coming from developing countries during the next five years, so world PET demand will be 60 million tons per year as of 2015,” the company said in a public statement. Additionally, Toyota Tsusho anticipates between 2.25 million to 3 million tons a year of biobased PET production is needed to penetrate the global market.

For EPCs such as Chemtex, being involved in projects like this is a welcoming sign of a new and burgeoning client base within the global chemical sector. And, the firm looks to accommodate its build-out accordingly, says Dennis Leong, executive vice president and global business development manager for Chemtex International.

“There’s a lot of interest in this field right now,” Leong says, adding that facilities of this nature are profitable entities. “These plants are competitive on a stand-alone basis because of their drop-in capacity,” he adds. “They can make good sense.” 

—Bryan Sims