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Innovation: New CO2-Based Plastics

Doris de Guzman's picture
, Green Chemicals Blog

Doris de Guzman examines alternative processing, new technology, R&D and other sustainability initiatives aimed at preventing pollution; replacing ingredients; and using renewable...

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  • Feb 23, 2013

So many news to post and so little time to do. The blog has earnings news from Solazyme and Amyris, updates from Cereplast, interview article from Ovation Biotech, updates on bio-adipic acid, and of course the weekly news roundup, and now this news from Novomer.

We’ll start with this milestone announcement from Novomer, which has developed polypropylene carbonate (PPC) material made from carbon dioxide and propylene oxide, as well as polyethylene carbonate (PEC) made from CO2 and ethylene oxide.

Novomer said it just started the world’s first large-scale manufacturing run of PPC polyol producing over several tons of finished product. The PPC polyol was produced at Albemarle’s manufacturing facility in Orangeburg, South Carolina, using existing equipment that was modified for PPC polyol production.

Albemarle Orangeburg facility

Novomer did not disclose the exact annual capacity of the manufacturing facility but according to the company, production from the Albemarle facility is already considered commercial scale for smaller volume polyol applications. Albemarle, a specialty chemical company, will continue to be a manufacturing partner for Novomer using the Orangeburg facility, the company said.

“Together we will explore options for partnering again on Novomer’s next scale manufacturing facility. One of the advantages of Novomer’s CO2 technology is that it fits very well into existing chemical industry infrastructure. The manufacturing process for our PPC polyols is actually quite similar to conventional polypropylene glycol production. This enables us to scale up production relatively quickly with low capital investments,” said Jason Anderson, director, CO2 strategy and business development at Novomer.

Novomer said its PPC polyols are designed to replace conventional petroleum-based polyether, polyester and polycarbonate polyols. Their polyols are said to be based on the co-polymerization of CO2 and epoxides resulting in products that contain more than 40% CO2 by weight.

“Any commercial polyols can be replaced with our PPC – not only specialty polyols like the conventional petroleum-based polycarbonate polyols or polycaprolactone polyols, but also lower cost commodity polyols such as polyether and polyester polyols. We have seen interesting performance improvements in a wide range of applications (coatings, adhesives, foams, etc.) when PPC polyols are used as a ‘strength enhancing component’ of the overall polyol formulation.” – Anderson

Novomer is currently working closely with several major companies in various segments of the polyurethanes industry. The material produced at the Albemarle facility will enable commercial-scale testing of the Novomer polyol.

Anderson noted that the key focus now for the company’s technology platform is to build out the polyol product line beyond the initial 1,000 molecular weight PPC diol.

“We have the ability to produce a very wide range of polyol structures and molecular weights to meet customers’ needs. We are now engaged in extensive sampling and collaborative R&D efforts with a number of potential customers, and we aim to complete regulatory approvals, thus make these polyols available for commercial use in the coming months.” – Anderson

Other companies who are currently working on PPC include SK Innovation (with its Green Pol brand); BASF who is supplying Siemens in developing an alternative material to acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene plastic; and Cardia Bioplastics, which was working on a blend of PPC polymer and starch for its Cardia Bioplastics CO2S resin.

The blog has been trying to find out if there are other companies out there who have already been producing PPC. It seems this material was first synthesized in the 1960s and according to last year’s report from China-based consulting firm CCM International, companies who have already been producing PPC include Inner Mongolia Mengxi High-Tech Group Co., Ltd. (Mengxi High-Tech) with a PPC production line of 3,000 tonnes/year that was constructed in 2004; and Jiangsu Jinlong-CAS Chemical Co., Ltd. (Jiangsu Jinlong), which finished a PPC resin production with a capacity of 22,000 tonnes/year.

The question here is if these capacities are currently operating.

According to the CCM report, both Mengxi High-Tech and Jiangsu Jinlong were planning to expand their PPC production but both planned projects stalled either because of technology issues and [or] production costs.

Four PPC technologies in China were reportedly developed by Changchun Applied Chemistry Institute, Guangzhou Institute, Sun Yat-sen University and Tianjin University. Based on their technology, both catalyst and raw materials are said to be expensive, and therefore their PPC cost is very high.

China National Offshore Oil New Material Co., Ltd., (CNOOC New Material) announced in 2007 its plans for a new 3,000 tonnes/year PPC plastic production with expectation of a 2011 start-up, but the project has also been stalled.

Another PPC project was from Guangzhou Tiancheng chemical Co., Ltd., established by the cooperation of Guangzhou Honsea Sunshine Bio Science & Technology Co., Ltd., Tinci Holdings Ltd. and SunYat-sen University. They signed the contract in October 2007 to build a 60,000 tonnes/year PPC capacity. The project, according to CCM last year, was still in foundation construction.

I think it’s time to contact CCM and check out the progress (or lack of it) from all of these projects. Meanwhile, you can also check out the blog’s October post  on some of the recent developments on other carbon dioxide-based chemicals and materials.


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