DuPont and Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) this week announced a “breakthrough” in the production of a bioplastic precursor that can be used for engineering plastics, packaging, textiles, and other applications.
They developed a method for producing furan dicarboxylic methyl ester (FDME) from fructose, a high-purity derivative of furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA). “It has long been sought-after and researched, but has not yet been available at commercial scale and at reasonable cost,” the companies said in a joint press release. The new FDME technology is described as a more efficient and simple process than traditional conversion approaches that results in higher yields, lower energy usage and lower capital expenditures.
“This molecule is a game-changing platform technology. It will enable cost-efficient production of a variety of 100 percent renewable, high-performance chemicals and polymers with applications across a broad range of industries,” said Simon Herriott, global business director for biomaterials at DuPont. “ADM is an agribusiness powerhouse with strong technology development capabilities. They are the ideal partner with which to develop this new, renewable supply chain for FDME.”
One of the first targets using FDME is polytrimethylene furandicarboxylate (PTF), a polyester that is also made from DuPont’s proprietary Bio-PDO (1,3-propanediol). PTF substantially improves gas-barrier properties compared to other polyesters, according to DuPont.
ADM and DuPont said they are planning to build an integrated 60 ton-per-year demonstration plant in Decatur, Illinois.
The announcement is interesting on several fronts:
- It puts meat on the bones of the pre-K2013 commitment by DuPont to produce more than half of its plastics from biobased monomers within 15 years.
- It puts ADM back in the biomaterials business after it stumbled badly in a joint venture with Metabolix called Telles to produce PHA Mirel in an industrial scale plant in Clinton, Iowa, that shut down four years ago. Likely ADM will move more slowly this time.
- This is exhibit A in why I don’t like the proposed breakup of DuPont into three companies in the planned merger of Dow and DuPont. DuPont Industrial Biosciences, which developed the new polyester precursor technology, will be in a different company from engineering plastics and packaging materials, cutting down the potential for synergies.
- And finally, amazingly, there is still life in the bioplastics business despite the downward spiral of oil prices below $30 a barrel, with the potential for even further declines as Iran re-enters the legal global supply chain.