Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), a food processing company, Battelle, a developer of new sciences and technology, and PolyOne Corp., a $2.7 billion polymer material and service provider, recently announced a collaborative effort to develop bio-based plasticizers that can be used to make softer, more flexible plastic products.

The alliance centers around using corn and oilseeds as a feedstock, whereas the global plasticizer market represents an $11 billion industry that currently relies primarily on petroleum as its feedstock.

In response to the new partnership, PolyOne Marketing Director Jim Gray offers some additional insight via a brief question and answer with Chem.Info.

Q: What is the background of this alliance?

A: All three companies—PolyOne, Battelle and Archer Daniels Midland—have had independent relationships with one another in the past. Over time, technical developments and opportunities within the market converged to a point where the alliance made sense for all parties.

PolyOne had an opportunity to screen candidate materials based upon Battelle’s patented development work and found those materials to be directionally interesting for a range of vinyl-based applications. From a market standpoint, many drivers converged, including oil pricing, sustainability or green initiatives, as well as regulatory activity surrounding plasticizers to make the alliance attractive.

Q: What are the benefits for PolyOne in this alliance?

A: We have the market reach and application knowledge, while ADM provides supply chain and chemistry knowledge. Commercially, there is a strong need for these types of materials in the vinyl industry. PolyOne is a major player in the vinyl industry, so solutions we derive further improve the environmental profile of this polymer.

Q: What are the primary benefits of these materials?

A: Plasticizers are used primarily to modify plastics, predominantly polyvinyl chloride (PVC), to make them softer and more flexible.

Most plasticizers are petroleum based with a few exceptions, such as epoxidized soybean oil and epoxidized linseed oil. These plasticizers are often used as secondary plasticizers in conjunction with other primary plasticizers due to their ability to stabilize the polymer against thermal degradation during processing and use.

End markets for plasticizers include:

  • Vinyl-coated fabrics.

  • Roofing membranes.

  • Wall coverings.

  • Flooring.

  • Gaskets.

  • Weather-stripping.

  • Wire and cable jacketing.

  • Footwear.

  • Toys.

  • Medical devices.

  • Among others.
The primary benefit is that they are from a renewable feedstock and function the same as traditional versions.

Q: What competitive advantage does this provide PolyOne?

A: This additive meets or exceeds the needs of this market, while being made from rapidly renewable sources, preserving finite petroleum feedstocks for other uses, which helps to protect against spikes in oil pricing and/or supply constraints.

Also, it may provide an alternative to phthalates. (These are [phthalic acid esters, which are added to plastics to help increase] their softness and flexibility. They are being phased out of many products in the U.S. and European Union due to health concerns.)

Q: How significant of an impact do you feel biofeedstocks will have on the plastic/polymer processing industry?

A: Strong evidence exists that bio-based feedstocks are making strides in the industry. As oil goes up, over time, the cost of producing polymers rises, too.

Many of today’s chemistries can be made from biosources. As an example of progress being made, both Braskem and Dow are moving to use sugarcane as a feedstock for polypropylene.