Bioplastic, Company initiatives

Mitsubishi expands PBS partnership

I apologize for the long hiatus as I just finished my mid-term exam last night and I made a promise to focus all my attention on school for the exam.

I have been wanting to post this news since it came out on November 5 about the collaboration between Mitsubishi Chemical and France-based automotive equipment supplier Faurecia on the use of polybutylene succinate (PBS) resins made from 100% biomass-based feedstock in automotive applications. I have mentioned the biodegradable polyester PBS before when I last posted about succinic acid.

It is commercially available in the market although not in big quantities. The last time I spoke with Mitsubishi Chemical, the company estimated the global PBS market were at 5,000-6,000 tonnes/year, and most of it is manufactured using petrochemical-based succinic acid and 1,4 butanediol (BDO). An industry source estimated the current PBS and derivatives market at 100,000–120,000 tonnes/year.

Faurecia said it has been conducting research into 100% renewable-based bioplastic since 2006 and will now partner with Mitsubishi Chemical to co-develop a full-range of bioplastics designed for use in automotive interiors. The collaboration will start with biomass-derived PBS, where Mitsubishi is already a producer via its partnership with US bio-succinic acid manufacturer BioAmber.

BioAmber will now also be the supplier of bio-based succinic acid to the Faurecia-Mitsubishi Chemical partnership. Under the deal, Faurecia will hold exclusive rights to automotive applications of the specific polymers jointly developed under this project.

Faurecia plans to develop a full range of bioplastics, which the company said are said to see a boom in the 2015-2020 period. Now when will the companies going to start incorporating bio-based PBS in Faurencia’s automotive parts? According to Mitsubishi Chemical, the partnership will “pursue development of a tailor-made biomass PBS that is suitable for automotive interior parts by 2014.”

First, let’s look at current and future production of PBS worldwide. As previously mentioned, most of the current commercial PBS production uses petrochemical-based succinic acid and BDO. As far as the blog knows, Mitsubishi Chemical and another Japan-based chemical firm Showa Denko are the only ones currently producing in commercial quantities of PBS that uses renewable-based succinic acid and petrochemical-based BDO.

As I was still grumpy with my test, I spent a lot of hours doing this google map (instead of binge drinking) of who’s who in the PBS world.

The blue and red markers represent current producers — blue for petro-based PBS and red for combined petro-based and renewable-based PBS production. The blue push pin is about Zibo Qixiang Tengda Chemical and its plans to build a 150,000 tonnes/year PBS capacity made from petroleum-based succinic acid and BDO.

According to ICIS News (subscription), Zibo is looking to also build a 55,000 tpy BDO and 75,000 tpy succinic acid that would take one and a half year to complete.

Meanwhile, the blog’s focus is on future bio-based PBS capacities (green push pin) and the only one we know is PTT MCC Biochem.

PTT MCC Biochem is building a 20,000 tpy PBS plant in Map Ta Phut, Thailand, using MCC’s GS Pla technology. The facility is expected to start in 2015, and therefore the blog concludes that Faurecia will probably start commercialization of biobased PBS-derived resins by 2015. The blog is not sure if the Map Ta Phut plant will already start producing 100% bio-based PBS with bio-succinic acid — about 15,000 tpy — coming from BioAmber and bio-BDO coming from Genomatica.

Meanwhile, Showa Denko announced in July this year that it has succeeded in commercially producing renewable-based PBS under its brand Bionolle using biobased succinic acid from Myriant. SDK said it has started providing film-grade samples of this product.

Now, according to industry sources, Showa Denko’s current PBS capacity is around 6,000 tpy. In SDK’s press release, the company said it will be able to secure the supply of 10,000-20,000 tpy of bio-derived succinic acid from Myriant by the end of the year.

“The company will therefore step up its activity to meet new demand.” – SDK

The blog therefore assumes that a PBS capacity expansion of around 20,000 tpy should be in the works to be able to fully use that annual bio-succinic acid supply.

The blog also would like mention European engineering firm Uhde Inventa-Fischer, which is now offering to build facilities that can produce at least 40,000 tpy of renewable-based PBS (can be completely or partially bio-based) using its patented process reactors under the trademark ESPREE and DISCAGE.

About Doris de Guzman

Will Green Chemistry save the world or is it hype? Doris de Guzman examines alternative processing, new technology, R&D and other sustainability initiatives aimed at preventing pollution; replacing ingredients; and using renewable feedstocks in Green Chemistry. She has been covering the oleochemicals market for 15 years and spread her beat to inorganics, biofuels and green chemistry.

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