By: Michael Lauzon
April 25, 2013
SAN DIEGO — Japanese chemicals and plastics company Toray Industries Inc. is on the verge of going commercial with partially bio-based polybutylene terephthalate.
Toray said its new PBT will use bio-based 1,4-butanediol developed by Genomatica Inc. of San Diego, Calif. Toray proved the viability in bench-scale testing that showed the polymer gave molded prototypes equal to petroleum-based PBT.
Toray will make new PBT samples available this year to establish demand for the partial biopolymer. The Tokyo firm said it will market the PBT commercially when 1,4-butanediol is readily available from a Genomatica licensee.
Genomatica's butanediol process involves an engineered microorganism, fermentation techniques and downstream processing. The firm proved commercial-scale production of 5 million pounds of the polymer intermediate in November 2012. Although other firms have explored biological methods of making butanediol, Toray claimed it is the first company to confirm use of butanediol using Genomatica's process. The development is the culmination of two years of work between the two companies.
The other intermediate chemical for PBT is terephthalic acid, currently derived from petroleum. PBT is used in auto parts, electrical components and other end-uses where its tensile strength and elasticity combined with heat resistance make it a material of choice.
Toray said environmental pressures such as limited oil supply and oil price increases and concerns about carbon dioxide emissions make plastics based on biomaterials an attractive alternative.
Toray has developed bio-based PET resin and is working on bio-based nylon.
Among other Genomatica's other bio-based programs is development of butadiene, an intermediate for some polymers and rubbers.