NatureWorks LLC, the leading manufacturer of polylactic acid resin, has revealed the true capacity of its plant in Blair, Neb.
The facility produces about 150 million pounds of PLA a year, said Eamonn Tighe, NatureWorks' business development manager in Europe, at the European Plastics News Bioplastics conference. That's half the 300 million-pound nameplate capacity the company has claimed since it opened in 2003.
``We built our plant in 2003 with a nominal capacity of [300 million pounds]. That plant has two trains and we have been running one,'' Tighe told delegates at the event, held Dec. 3-4 in Cologne. ``We have now set in process the startup of the second train.''
Tighe said the disclosure, which company sources said previously had been revealed only to a handful of key customers, is not connected to Tokyo-based Teijin Ltd. taking a 50 percent share in the business in October. Cargill Inc. of Minneapolis had held a 100 percent stake since the exit of startup partner Dow Chemical Co. in 2005.
The disclosure is likely to help contain speculation over the technical capabilities of the Blair production technology, sparked by NatureWorks' refusal to explain its difficulty in guaranteeing new deliveries from the unit last year, when PLA market demand was estimated at little more than 88 million pounds per year.
Tighe told conference delegates the company had been ``challenged'' to guarantee production capacity from its single train to meet a big increase in packaging evaluation projects at that time.
Since then, however, he said the company has been pleased with results from the streamlined train, which he said has been running at up to 15 percent above its original design capacity for some periods this year. Prices have also benefited from the efficiency gains.
``Prices are competitive. For resin it's in the region of $2-$2.60 per kilogram [91 cents to $1.18 per pound], depending on the grade,'' he said.
Tighe told delegates the company is confident that launching the second train will help Blair finally reach, and probably exceed, its 300 million-pound capacity.
``By the end of 2008 or early 2009 we will have that plant running beyond its nameplate capacity,'' he said.
NatureWorks also has decided to broaden the use of the Ingeo brand name, previously applied to PLA fiber applications, which account for around 20 percent of the company's production. In the future, manufacturers of any product containing NatureWorks PLA will be able to license the use of the Ingeo name.