Novomer, Penford partner to commercialize sustainable packaging

By Bryan Sims | January 20, 2012

Renewable polymer developer Novomer Inc. and diversified specialty ingredients and industrial products manufacturer Penford Corp. have entered into a joint development agreement to commercialize sustainable packaging using a combination of starch and polypropylene carbonate-based thermoplastic polymer composites.

According to a statement by Novomer, unmodified starch use has been limited due to inherent performance characteristics, but it has long been targeted as a cost-effective renewable material for a broad range of packaging applications. When modified, specialty starches can be compatible with other polymers to extend the use and modify the properties of those polymers for targeted uses.

Novomer has developed a proprietary catalyst system that’s capable of converting waste carbon dioxide streams into polyethylene carbonate and polypropylene carbonate, the result of reacting carbon dioxide with ethylene oxide and propylene oxide, respectively. These polymers, according to Novomer, contain up to 50 percent carbon dioxide by mass and have superior mechanical and barrier properties and a chemical backbone that’s compatible, and likely synergistic, with specialty modified starch.

Penford bolstered its starch-based bioproduct segment with the completed acquisition this month of Carolina Starches LLC, which produces and sells modified starches and starch blends domestically and in several export markets. In December, Penford announced intention of purchasing a facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to expand its bioproducts portfolio, which consists of fuel-grade ethanol, ethylated and oxidized starches used for coatings and binders, as well as cationic and other liquid starches used in paper production.  

In December, Penford Products Co. announced the delivery of a letter to the City of Cedar Rapids expressing the company’s interest in purchasing the Riverside Park property that is adjacent to the company’s facility, located at 1001 First Street SW in Cedar Rapids. Penford intends to use the land to support current and future growth, including growth of its business manufacturing bioproducts created from the area’s renewable resources.

“Novomer’s expertise in sustainable polymers combined with Penford’s expertise in specialty starch-based formulations provide an opportunity to create highly functional, cost-effective and renewable thermoplastics to extend or replace petroleum-based plastics in barrier film and structured articles,” commented Wallace Kunerth, chief science officer of Penford.

The two companies envision that the creation of starch-PPC composites will yield low cost, environmentally sustainable packing polymers suitable for the multi-billion dollar global packaging materials market.

“Governments and companies, especially those in packaged goods markets around the globe, continue to place a heavy emphasis on initiatives aimed at reducing carbon levels in the atmosphere and creating alternatives to petroleum-based plastics,” said Peter Shepard, executive vice president of Novomer. “We believe that the combination of Novomer’s extensive PPC technology with Penford’s lower cost, renewable specialty starch products will create truly novel and cost-effective packaging materials and a new avenue to address these market needs.”

In addition to its carbon dioxide platform, Novomer is also commercializing a homogeneous catalyst stem that combines carbon monoxide with ethylene oxide to create the chemical intermediate, propiolactone, which can be readily converted into acrylic acid, acrylate esters, butanediol or succinic acid using known technologies. Applications for these chemicals, according to Novomer, include diapers, paints, coatings, high-performance plastics and textiles with a market potential in excess of $12 billion.