Natureworks Polymers from Renewable Feedstocks
The 2002 Presidential Green Chemistry Award winner NatureworksTM polymers are made from plant-based starting materials through an environmentally friendly process. The fibers and packaging can be recycled or composted at the end of their lifetime.
Today, June 23, is the final day of the 15th annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference, (http://acswebcontent.acs.org/gcande/) during which this year’s Presidential Green Chemistry Award winners are announced. Today’s ACS IYC celebration focuses on a past recipient of the award.
It is easy to agree in theory that products and processes that are environmentally benign are a good idea, but when there is an extra cost involved, the choice becomes more difficult. Cargill Dow took enormous strides forward in meeting this challenge in 2002 when they won the Presidential Green Chemistry Award in the Greener Reaction Conditions category for their NatureWorksTM process. http://www.epa.gov/gcc/pubs/pgcc/winners/grca02.html
The NatureWorks process starts with biobased feedstocks to make polymers for fibers and plastic packaging materials. These new products compete head-to-head with traditional petroleum-based products for comparable cost and performance. Plastic packaging from these polymers is compostable and recyclable. Fibers made from the NatureWorks polylactic acid polymers blend the best properties of synthetic materials such as nylon or rayon with the best properties of natural materials such as silk, wool, and cotton. The resilient fabrics made from these fibers feel soft, drape well, and resist wrinkling.
The process of making the polylactic acid polymers addresses all twelve of the Principles of Green Chemistry (http://www.epa.gov/gcc/pubs/principles.html), and production consumes 20-50 % less fossil fuel resources than for their competing products. A natural fermentation process to produce lactic acid serves to prevent pollution at the source, and annually renewable materials replace petroleum-based feedstocks. Water substitutes for organic solvents in the manufacture of the products, thus increasing the safety of the process and eliminating waste when combined with a strong effort to recycle both product and byproduct streams. Catalysts are used to improve the overall yield and reduce the energy needs. Because the final polymers are fully biodegradeable, this process goes beyond the “cradle to grave” approach and instead represents a “cradle to cradle” philosophy of materials.
With the NatureWorks process, it’s easy being green.