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Cheap Plastic Made from Sugarcane
MIT Technology Review ^ | 07-25-2011 | Kevin Bullis

Posted on 07/25/2011 11:56:59 AM PDT by Red Badger

Dow Chemical is building a plant to make polyethylene from sugarcane at costs that rival petrochemical production.

Making plastic from sugar can be just as cheap as making it from petroleum, says Dow Chemical. The company plans to build a plant in Brazil that it says will be the world's largest facility for making polymers from plants.

The project will begin with the construction of a 240-million-liter ethanol plant, a joint venture with Mitsui, that is set to begin later this year. By the beginning of next year, Dow will finish engineering plans for facilities that will convert that ethanol into hundreds of thousands of metric tons of polyethylene, the world's most widely used plastic.

Bio-based chemicals production has grown quickly in recent years, but it still represents just 7.7 percent of the overall chemicals market. Production has been limited in many cases to specialty chemicals or niche products. But Dow now says chemicals made from plant feedstocks may be ready to compete head-to-head with petrochemicals made in large volumes.

Most large-volume chemicals are made from petroleum. About 80 million tons of polyethylene are made annually around the world. But high oil prices have increased the costs of petrochemicals. And in Brazil, long-standing government support for sugarcane ethanol production has allowed the industry to drive down costs, making ethanol competitive with fossil fuels. Making polyethylene from sugar "would not necessarily be attractive in other regions," says Luis Cirihal, Dow's director of renewable alternatives and business development for Latin America.

The technology for converting ethanol into ethylene, the precursor for polyethylene, is not new. "The dehydration process for converting ethanol to ethylene has been known since the 1920s. The only thing that's really new here is the scale," Cirihal says. The new plant will have a polyethylene production capacity comparable to production at a petrochemical plant. Though the exact production levels aren't yet settled, they will be on the order of "what you have heard before," he says, referring to a proposed Dow project that would have made 350,000 metric tons of polyethylene from sugarcane. (That proposal relied on a partnership that ended as a result of the recession.) It will be bigger than a 200,000-ton sugarcane-to-polyethylene plant operated by Brazil-based Braskem.

The new plant won't be the first time Dow has invested significantly in bio-based plastics. A decade ago, it partnered with Cargill to make corn-based plastics. But Dow pulled out of that venture in 2005 after the market for the bioplastic failed to take off. Cirihal says that Dow is now taking a different approach. The earlier plastic was a new material, and proved difficult to market and distribute. He says that's why Dow decided to make a common material with an established market this time. The sugarcane-based polyethylene will perform just as well as oil-based polyethylene, he says.

Cirihal says Dow is keeping costs down by doing every part of the process, from growing the sugarcane to producing the polymers. This makes it possible, for example, to provide energy to run the plant with biomass left over from producing sugar from sugarcane. While he says the plastics produced will be competitive with petrochemicals, he also says the company hopes to charge more for the product because of the significant demand for low-carbon, sustainable materials.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Technical
KEYWORDS: ethanol; oil; petroleum; plastic

Crude replacement: This Brazilian sugarcane could supersede oil for making plastic. Credit: Dow Chemical

BETTER LIVING THRU CHEMISTRY....HOW SWEET IT IS!...........

1 posted on 07/25/2011 11:57:05 AM PDT by Red Badger
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To: Red Badger

Ethanol hasn’t sent food prices high enough, eh?


2 posted on 07/25/2011 11:59:11 AM PDT by mewzilla (Forget a third party. We need a second one.)
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To: mewzilla

This is from sugarcane, not corn. But the process will likely come here eventually and the corn lobby will fall all over themselves to get it done..............


3 posted on 07/25/2011 12:00:45 PM PDT by Red Badger (PEAS in our time? Obama cries PEAS! PEAS! when there is no PEAS!..........................)
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To: Red Badger

Pretty Sweet!


4 posted on 07/25/2011 12:01:59 PM PDT by bigbob
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To: Red Badger
This is from sugarcane, not corn.

I did get that, RB :)

But the analogy works.

5 posted on 07/25/2011 12:02:09 PM PDT by mewzilla (Forget a third party. We need a second one.)
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To: Red Badger

We make plastic from food.
The ChiComs make food of plastic.

I understand nothing.....

(Roccus just walks away, shaking head...)


6 posted on 07/25/2011 12:02:36 PM PDT by Roccus (Obama & Holder LLP, Procurers of fine arms to the most discerning drug lords (202) 456-1414)
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To: mewzilla

Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages...”


7 posted on 07/25/2011 12:02:43 PM PDT by null and void (Day 915. When your only tools are a Hammer & Sickle, everything looks like a Capitalist...)
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To: Red Badger
Hows about those rocket scientists find something to make plastic outta that isn't a foodstuff? :)
8 posted on 07/25/2011 12:04:22 PM PDT by mewzilla (Forget a third party. We need a second one.)
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To: mewzilla

If nothing else, it will make the cost of chocolate go up!...............


9 posted on 07/25/2011 12:05:24 PM PDT by Red Badger (PEAS in our time? Obama cries PEAS! PEAS! when there is no PEAS!..........................)
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To: Red Badger

Because it’s not enough that we burn our food in cars, now.


10 posted on 07/25/2011 12:05:45 PM PDT by Lazamataz (If you pet a tiny goose, you will feel a little down.)
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To: mewzilla

First, there was bakelite......

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bakelite


11 posted on 07/25/2011 12:07:32 PM PDT by Red Badger (PEAS in our time? Obama cries PEAS! PEAS! when there is no PEAS!..........................)
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To: Red Badger

I wonder if the sugar tariffs would applied to plastics made from sugar cane as it does with sugar ethanol?


12 posted on 07/25/2011 12:10:12 PM PDT by 11th Commandment (http://www.thirty-thousand.org/)
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To: Red Badger

If you get stuck on a remote road most of your car will be edible!


13 posted on 07/25/2011 12:11:17 PM PDT by Iron Munro (The more effeminate & debauched the people, the more they are fitted for a tyrannical government.)
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To: mewzilla

” make plastic outta that isn’t a foodstuff?”

Hemp oil?????


14 posted on 07/25/2011 12:17:29 PM PDT by Dr. Bogus Pachysandra ( Ya can't pick up a turd by the clean end!)
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To: Red Badger

But, but, but!! Is this making plastic from the residual cane after extracting the sap for making sugar, or is this another case of diverting a major source of food to a non-food alternative?


15 posted on 07/25/2011 12:18:48 PM PDT by Elsiejay
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To: Red Badger

Gotta be a stripper named “Sugar Cane,” don’t you think?


16 posted on 07/25/2011 12:18:52 PM PDT by RexBeach (Mr. Obama can't count.)
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To: Red Badger
More amazing American innovations that will make America more prosperous!

The company plans to build a plant in Brazil

Oh. Nevermind.

17 posted on 07/25/2011 12:19:12 PM PDT by Roninf5-1
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To: 11th Commandment
I wonder if the sugar tariffs would applied to plastics made from sugar cane as it does with sugar ethanol?

Probably. The government protections for the sugar industry in this country seem to be stronger than any other.

18 posted on 07/25/2011 12:22:22 PM PDT by Moonman62 (The US has become a government with a country, rather than a country with a government.)
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To: Red Badger

One word son, plastics

19 posted on 07/25/2011 12:22:55 PM PDT by bmwcyle (Obama is a Communist, a Muslim, and an illegal alien)
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To: Roninf5-1

The thought entered my mind that maybe they could ahve built the plant here.

The story did say they were doing everything on the cheap.

Cheap Labor, cheap tax’s, cheap sugar cane, cheap land, guess it was just too expensive to build it here.

They won’t mind selling it here though-—and it won’t be cheap.


20 posted on 07/25/2011 12:24:24 PM PDT by Venturer
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To: RexBeach

Quite a few, I imagine.................Several named Candy Cane...............Not that I have any personal knowledge or anything like that........;^)


21 posted on 07/25/2011 12:29:18 PM PDT by Red Badger (PEAS in our time? Obama cries PEAS! PEAS! when there is no PEAS!..........................)
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To: Red Badger

We haven’t burned enough of our food. Now we have to convert our food into industrial plastics.


22 posted on 07/25/2011 12:56:54 PM PDT by BuffaloJack (2012 is the opportunity to get rid of Obama and his Empire of Lies.)
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To: BuffaloJack

You’ve gotta have something to put all the burnt food in......................


23 posted on 07/25/2011 12:58:00 PM PDT by Red Badger (PEAS in our time? Obama cries PEAS! PEAS! when there is no PEAS!..........................)
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To: Red Badger
This guy approves


24 posted on 07/25/2011 12:58:23 PM PDT by dfwgator
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To: dfwgator

He was right...................


25 posted on 07/25/2011 1:00:06 PM PDT by Red Badger (PEAS in our time? Obama cries PEAS! PEAS! when there is no PEAS!..........................)
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To: Red Badger

I guess the price of my coke-a-cola will go up & up!


26 posted on 07/25/2011 1:11:54 PM PDT by urtax$@work (The only kind of memorial is a Burning memorial !)
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To: Red Badger
...And in Brazil, long-standing government support for sugarcane ethanol production has allowed the industry to drive down costs, making ethanol competitive with fossil fuels...

Good for Brazil. But, as usual, "Alternative Fuels" only survive with massive government subsidies.

They still can't cut it competitively. And, so long as the gov't sugar daddy is writing the check, there's no incentive for industry to look for a competitive solution.

27 posted on 07/25/2011 1:28:23 PM PDT by wbill
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To: Red Badger

So after you’ve finished your Pepsi you can eat the bottle.
Should do wonders for those obesity and diabetes stats.


28 posted on 07/25/2011 1:29:21 PM PDT by Buckeye McFrog
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To: Red Badger

This sounds like something out of the script for the original ‘Sabrina’ Movie. Sugar into high strength clear plastic.


29 posted on 07/25/2011 1:46:02 PM PDT by Conan the Librarian (The Best in Life is to crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and the Dewey Decimal System)
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To: Red Badger

Might want to check out Parkesine. Way before Bakelite.


30 posted on 07/25/2011 1:52:07 PM PDT by Trod Upon (Obama: Making the Carter malaise look good. Misery Index in 3...2...1)
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To: Conan the Librarian

Can clear aluminum be far behind?....................


31 posted on 07/25/2011 1:59:02 PM PDT by Red Badger (PEAS in our time? Obama cries PEAS! PEAS! when there is no PEAS!..........................)
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To: Roninf5-1; Red Badger

>>> Dow Chemical is building a plant to make polyethylene from sugarcane

Cellulose pointed the way a long time ago. But oil was cheap.

>>> The company plans to build a plant in Brazil. Oh. Nevermind.

American sugar prices are artificially held to about 4 times the world rate. It’s been that way since the Cuban Embargo was put in place. That’s why sugar disappeared from colas, candies, etc.

That won’t be a problem in Brazil. Not to mention labor costs and environmental concerns.


32 posted on 07/25/2011 10:28:01 PM PDT by tlb
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To: Trod Upon

Parkesine never made it as a household name....................


33 posted on 07/26/2011 5:41:07 AM PDT by Red Badger (PEAS in our time? Obama cries PEAS! PEAS! when there is no PEAS!..........................)
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