11 February 2000

Fibre/plastic breakthrough

GROWERS of crops such as wheat, sugar beet or maize could soon have a new market for their produce. A system developed by Cargill Dow Polymers (CDP) now enables these products to be used to make polymers for fibres and plastic.

Uses for the plastic are vast and extend to clothing, cups, bottles and home and office furnishings.

The process involves the "harvesting" of the carbon plants remove from the air during photosynthesis. Carbon is stored in plant starches which can be broken down into natural plant sugars. The carbon and other elements in these natural sugars are then used to make plastic.

CDP insists that plastic made from renewable sources is able to compete on cost and quality with traditionally made fibres and plastics.

A joint venture between Cargill and Dow, CDP is investing $300m for the construction of the first world-scale production plant at Blair, Nebraska. Due to come on stream late next year, annual capacity is put at 140,000t and there are plans to build similar plants in Europe and Asia.

Upholstery from maize. Cargill Dow Polymers has developed a system which can make plastics and fibres from renewable sources.