NatureWorks, BioAmber create JV to commercialize new biopolymers

By Bryan Sims | February 21, 2012

Biobased polylactic acid (PLA) polymer producer NatureWorks LLC and biosuccinic acid developer BioAmber Inc. have formed a new joint venture company, AmberWorks, to commercialize a new family of biobased compounded polymer resin grades through NatureWorks’ existing portfolio of biopolymers trademarked Ingeo.

According to Steve Davies, director of corporate communications and public affairs for NatureWorks, the joint venture builds on a natural synergy that exists between the two companies. Beyond its Ingeo PLA technology platform, NatureWorks brings to the joint venture a global commercial presence, established customer relationships, developed applications across a breadth of industries and deep experience in commercializing novel polymers.

NatureWorks currently owns and operates a 300 million pound per year bioPLA manufacturing plant in Blair, Neb., where it produces its trademarked Ingeo brand of bioplastic. Now 50 percent owned by PTT Chemical Public Co. Ltd., Thailand’s largest chemical producer, Davies said the company has its sights set on building a second PLA production facility together with PTT Chemical in Thailand, slated to come online by 2015.

“We’ve always said that Ingeo was never meant to be one polymer only,” Davies told Biorefining Magazine. “We’ve been looking at other biobased building blocks that we could add to the Ingeo family to improve or expand the range of properties.” 

Similarly, BioAmber owns PLA and polybutylene succincate (PBS) compounding intellectual property owned by Sinoven Biopolymers, a subsidiary of BioAmber, and applies award-winning biotechnology and chemical processing for the production of biobased chemicals like PBS, a biodegradable polymer produced using succinic acid and 1,4 butanediol (BDO).

Since January 2010, BioAmber has been producing biobased succinic acid at its demonstration facility in Pomacle, France. With an annual capacity of 3,000 metric tons, the facility employs a proprietary fermentation process that uses an E. coli microorganism to convert wheat-derived glucose as feedstock into biobased succinic acid, consuming carbon dioxide in the production process, thereby lowering its carbon footprint.

Specifically, AmberWorks will develop a combination of PLA and PBS compounded polymer resin grades through several toll compounders, according to Davies, aimed at thermoforming and injection molding processes. Compounded PLA/PBS resin grades developed and manufactured by AmberWorks will be marketed exclusively through NatureWorks’ global commercial organization. Daives added that AmberWorks has already begun launching developmental samples of the new Ingeo injection molding and thermoforming resin grades designed for foodware applications to third party customers.

“When PLA and PBS resins are blended, compounded, mixed together with the right additive and then packaged with the right technology, which is what BioAmber is providing to the joint venture, you can make plastics that span the entire property space,” Davies said. “We can now start to look at competing with other biobased plastics ranging from polystyrene and polyethylene teraphthalate (PET) to polypropylene and polyethylene. All those are completely different in property set. We can now start to access the properties of each of them by blending these two biobased materials.”

Davies said there’s already a lot of interest coming from would-be customers eager to sample the new PLA/PBS resin grades, adding that, based on market interest, further applications beyond foodware will be evaluated over the course of a year or two.

“We’ll adjust and tailor the recipe as needed based on the market feedback,” Davies said.