Japan's Kureha Corp. is mere weeks away from taking orders at its West Virginia plant for its Kuredux polyglycolic acid resin, a high-strength polyester that can be used as a barrier resin in multilayer PET bottles.
Production at the site in Belle, W.Va., could begin in March or April, Jeff Sherry, vice president and general manager for packaging materials at New York-based Kureha America Inc., said Feb. 8 at The Packaging Conference in Las Vegas.
Kureha expects the plant, which is part of DuPont Co.'s site in Belle, to have more than 50 employees and a $1 million annual payroll. According to local media, as many as 300 construction workers have been involved in building the factory, which Kureha announced in 2007.
PGA, which has been used for 40 years in synthetic dissolving surgical sutures, has been a pet Kureha project for biodegradable packaging applications since the 1990s, Sherry said.
In 2002, Kureha built a pilot PGA plant in Iwaki, Japan, that produces about 110 tons of resin annually. The $100 million Belle plant will have a 4,400 ton annual production capacity and is built to be scalable up to two to three times its current size, he said.
Kureha's current targeted application for PGA is multilayer PET bottles for carbonated soft drinks and beer. Since PGA offers a carbon-dioxide gas barrier 100 times higher than that of PET, it is possible to reduce the amount of PET used in these bottles. PGA also is superior to formulated nylons and polyester in terms of processability and end use, according to Sherry.
When you put this material through typical recycling processes, and it goes through an alkali detergent wash, you will literally in seconds degrade the PGA back into glycolic acid, which is water soluble, he said.
That means PGA won't muck up the PET recycling infrastructure the way other multilayer bottles do, he said.
Kureha's Japanese plant has partnered with Boxmore Plastics SA Pty. Ltd. of Harrismith, South Africa, on a project to mold PET preforms containing a thin ribbon of about 3 percent PGA, utilizing Kortec coinjection systems, for Coca-Cola bottles for distribution in Africa.
With a material that's 100 times better than PET, we can do an awful lot of lightweighting, Sherry said.
While awaiting the U.S. plant's startup, Kureha is testing additional bottles, brands and African markets, he said, and testing other global applications for packaging containing PGA, including barrier film and sheet.
Sherry said the New York-based Biodegradable Products Institute; Vilvoorde, Belgium-based VinÃ§otte; and the Japan BioPlastics Association have certified PGA as biodegradable. The material is awaiting certification by the Washington-based Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers.