DuPont Co.'s Industrial Biosciences unit and Archer Daniels Midland Co. have developed technology that promises to lead to a whole new type of sustainable resins that are alternatives to PET.
The partners say they found a breakthrough process to make a monomer that could replace terephthalic acid, a key ingredient in PET, polyethylene terephthalate. They start with fructose, an abundant and low-cost sugar derived from many biomass sources. They end up with furan dicarboxylic acid methyl ester (FDME), a monomer that could act like terephthalic acid in thermoplastic polyester production.
Their breakthrough is in getting a high yield in the fructose-to-FDME process, which makes it economically viable compared with other routes to making FDME, explained Simon Herriott, global business director for biomaterials at DuPont.
“Typically researchers get low yield making FDME from fructose,” Herriott said in a phone interview. The chemistry of sugars such as fructose has been much studied but the low yield routes to FDME have restricted FDME's usefulness.
DuPont and ADM, a global food products and biotechnology company, are building a 60-ton-per-year pilot plant in Decatur, Ill., where ADM operates a large processing facility. Herriott said the pilot facility should be running by the end of the year. The partners are already supplying sample quantities for researchers to look into new polymers production.
Herriott said the partners don't anticipate major problems with FDME-based polymers in food contact applications. In fact, the precursor to FDME, an organic acid, is produced in small amounts in the human body in regular metabolic systems, according to the literature. FDME-based polyesters would be alternatives to PET, which already is sometimes being touted as a more benign polymer than resins made from bisphenol A.
FDME is already being looked at as a monomer for polyester fiber production when reacted with propylene glycol. That new polymer, polytrimethylene furandicarboxylate or PTF, promises higher gas barrier than conventional PET in beverage bottles, and is recyclable. DuPont already makes bio-based propylene glycol and has given it the tradename Bio-PDO, so PTF made with these monomers can be viewed as 100 percent renewable.
FDME is one of 12 building blocks that the U.S. Department of Energy has tagged as promising to make high-value, bio-based materials. A lot of work has been done on FDME but its production cost so far has been a barrier to commercial PET-type bottle resin production.
DuPont: tel. 650-284-6429 email [email protected]; Archer Daniels Midland: tel. 312-634-8484.