A rapidly emerging Shanghai chemical producer announced at Chinaplas last week that it has started commercial production of a polyamide (nylon) made 100 percent from plant sugars using a patented process. The initial target of the new plastic is textiles, but engineering plastics’ applications are expected to follow quickly.
Feedstock for the polyamide 5,6 (trademarked Terryl) from Cathay Industrial Biotech will come from long-chain diacids (LCDA). Cathay last year started up a plant to produce 1,5 pentane diamime (DN5) made from renewable resources.
“Terryl is a revolutionary polymer offering performance attributes previously unavailable to the fiber markets from synthetic materials. Customer response has been
phenomenal,” said Dr. Xiucai Liu, CEO of Cathay.
Terryl PA56 will be distributed through the same global distribution networks used for the LCDA fermentation facilities that currently produce carbon 11 to carbon 15 diacids.
The announcement is the newest development in what seems to be coming a stampede toward production of bio-polyamides, a field long held solely by Arkema, which makes castor-oil based engineering plastics using a recipe developed by I.G. Farben during the 1940s.
Several polyamide producers jumped on the bandwagon in recent years to produce some iteration of polyamide from castor oil. It is more expensive than standard polyamides, but has found important niches, such as engine tubing, because of its superior chemical resistance properties.
In 2007, BASF, whose chemists working for Farben developed the first castor-oil based polyamide, introduced Ultramid Balance nylon 6/10, which is about 60 percent based on sebacic acid, a material derived from castor oil. DuPont, which had turned down the opportunity to take over the German-developed castor-based polyamide after WWII, announced its entry into the field in 2008, as did Evonik. Rhodia is also a player.
Now other polyamides, such as Terryl, are emerging, using other feedstocks.
Interestingly, DuPont promises to significantly boost the stakes. In interviews last year, technology VP Lewis Manring said that will produce more than than half of its plastics portfolio from renewable resources within 15 years based on proprietary technology under development.
This is different from the other bioplastics stories that have gotten a lot of press. The bio polyamides have emerged because they offer a unique set of properties, and offer the promise longer term to reduce costs compared to plastics based on volatile fossil fuels.
Polyamides made with reneweable resource still represent a very small fraction of the total polyamide market, but the size of the fraction is growing.