Bio-based feedstock gets a big boost

Construction now is underway on a $100-million plant at Loudon, Tenn., to make 1,3 propanediol (PDO) from corn. DuPont, Wilmington, Del., and Tate & Lyle, London, have formed a joint venture, DuPont Tate & Lyle BioProducts, Wilmington, to build and operate the 100-mllion-lb./yr-capacity facility. Output of so-called Bio-PDO should begin in mid-2006 and ramp up as demand requires.

“The world is in a position today where we can no longer afford to rely solely on oil and oil-derived products to sustain us,” noted Charles O. Holliday, Jr., chairman of DuPont.

"Biology-based solutions offer us the opportunity to transform economies by creating new, high-performance bio-materials that use less energy to manufacture, are preferred by our customers and are better for the long-term health of our economy and environment.” Iain Ferguson, chief executive of Tate & Lyle, added, “We think the time for corn is now and that we are ideally placed to bring this new bio-based material to market. Bio-PDO delivers on green credentials and meets both the environmental and economic need to reduce oil-dependency.”

The production of Bio-PDO consumes 30-40% less energy than petroleum-based PDO, say the firms. Output of 100 million-lb./yr of Bio-PDO will save the equivalent of 10 million gallons of gasoline per year, they add. Overall, notes DuPont, the bio-based route offers lower operating costs thanks to a variety of factors and, of course, less sensitivity to energy prices. It also is said to provide reduced emissions and improved process safety compared to the petroleum-based production.

The plant will use a proprietary fermentation and purification process jointly developed by DuPont and Tate & Lyle and piloted for several years by Tate & Lyle at its Decatur, Ill., site. Genencor International, Palo Alto, Calif., has also been involved in the effort and will provide the biocatalyst that allows the direct conversion of glucose from corn to PDO. (In 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded DuPont its Presidential Green Chemistry Award for the biocatalytic production of PDO.)

PDO is a key feedstock for DuPont’s Sorona polymer; once output from Loudon begins, Bio-PDO will replace the petrochemical-based PDO now used as a feedstock at DuPont’s sole Sorona plant, in Kingston, N.C. The switch will not affect any of the performance characteristics of the polymer, notes DuPont. It adds that production of Sorona from Bio-PDO creates about 40% less greenhouse emissions than making nylon.

Besides serving as a feedstock for Sorona, Bio-PDO potentially may gain a wider role as an ingredient or for direct use. DuPont notes that applications in the automotive and industrial markets now are being considered.

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