NatureWorks LLC announced a major capital investment project at its Blair, Neb., manufacturing facility for the production of new grades of high-performance Ingeo biopolymers as well as a new generation of lactide intermediates. Samples of the new polymers and lactide intermediates will be available next year with commercial sales commencing by 2013.
Made from plants, not oil, Ingeo is the market-leading biopolymer fueling a new generation of low-carbon-footprint fibers and plastic products. Certified as USDA BioPreferred for containing 100 percent biobased carbon content, Ingeo biopolymers are used in multiple industries and product categories, including rigid and flexible packaging, electronics, clothing, house wares, health and personal care, semi-durable products, and foodservice ware.
For the last 10 years, NatureWorks has supported applications development across this broad range of market segments, resulting in more than 16 commercial grades of Ingeo resin, each with chemistry and physical properties tailored to a specific end use. According to NatureWorks chief operations officer, Bill Suehr, “The new capital investment will significantly broaden our processing capabilities, allowing us to produce with appropriate economies of scale additional Ingeo products well suited to the global injection molding and fiber/nonwovens markets.”
The new Ingeo grade for injection molding, for example, will contribute to lower molded part cost through faster cycle times and higher production rates. Fiber and nonwoven products made from the new Ingeo grade will have reduced shrinkage and improved dimensional stability. These improved features are expected to enable the use of Ingeo biopolymers across a broader range of fiber and nonwoven applications, providing larger processing windows. NatureWorks also will assess new market and application opportunities for these new Ingeo grades in the thermoforming, film extrusion, injection stretch blow molding, and formed extrusion arenas.
NatureWorks was the first company to sell a bioplastic on a world-class production scale. In order to create a base load for its large plant, as its first priority, the company focused on being price competitive in high-volume applications.
As NatureWorks president and chief executive officer Marc Verbruggen points out, “The rapid growth of our Ingeo business today is confirmation we have achieved that goal. From a competitive standpoint, it is far easier to expand further in markets such as injection molding and nonwovens from a broadly successful market base, supported by high-volume production, than to try to expand into high-volume market segments from a smaller high-production-cost manufacturing base. This niche-focused, high-production-cost scenario is the position in which many other biopolymer suppliers, some of them direct competitors of ours, find themselves in today.