NatureWorks LLC said it has dramatically reduced energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions with new technology to make its Ingeo polylactic acid resin.
Ingeo can be extruded, thermoformed and injection molded into a variety of packaging and consumer products. NatureWorks claims the new version not only improves Ingeo's environmental profile but offers environmental benefits compared with PET resin and other plastics derived from oil and natural gas.
The new production technology cuts energy usage by 30 percent and carbon-dioxide emissions by 60 percent, the Minnetonka, Minn., firm said in a Feb. 10 news release.
NatureWorks has not disclosed how the process works. Spokeswoman Mary Rosenthal said only that it is advanced lactic acid technology.
The new Ingeo resin emits 77 percent less carbon dioxide than PET, a resin that Ingeo PLA competes against in thermoformed clamshell packaging and other markets, according to research from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Heidelberg, Germany.
Producing the new Ingeo also consumes 56 percent less energy than the equivalent weight of PET, the study said.
The German institute, which conducted the study for NatureWorks, measured every significant input and output for Ingeo production, from seed planting to shipping the resin, according to the company.
This new production technology comes at a time when governments across the world are renewing efforts to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, said NatureWorks spokesman Steve Davies.
He said the development is encouraging to more than 100 companies that make consumer products from Ingeo.
NatureWorks, together with research organizations, spent about $25 million on developing the new technology. Participants included NatureWorks parent Cargill Inc., as well as a network of biotechnology firms, universities and government research laboratories.
The work was partly supported by grants from the Department of Energy.
NatureWorks also said its new generation of Ingeo has a better ecological profile than recycled PET in clamshell production. Clamshells made from the new Ingeo resin require 14 percent less energy than recycled PET versions at equivalent weight even before Ingeo's downgauging potential is exploited. The new Ingeo clamshells also generate 34 percent less carbon dioxide, the company said.
Ingeo's new, smaller footprint means NatureWorks will no longer buy Renewable Energy Credits to improve the biopolymer's environmental performance. But the company will buy RECs from other sources and sell them to customers that want them for their own corporate environmental goals.
InnoWare Plastic Inc. has been using the new Ingeo since late 2008, according to Hanna Sjolund, marketing manager for the firm's service plastics division.
InnoWare also will offer its thermoformed takeout containers in recyclable PET, however, to complement its Ingeo-based Eco line, Sjolund said in a telephone interview.
The Alpharetta, Ga.-based company wants to give customers a broader slate of environment-oriented takeout containers, she said.
InnoWare also supplies polystyrene takeout containers.