Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
BASF, Cargill, Novozymes Achieve Another Milestone in Development of Bio-Based Diaper Material

BASF, Cargill and Novozymes have announced the achievement of another milestone in their joint development of technologies to produce acrylic acid from renewable raw materials. The team has demonstrated the successful conversion of 3-hydroxypropionic acid (3-HP) to glacial acrylic acid and superabsorbent polymers — polymers that can absorb and retain extremely large amounts of a liquid relative to their own mass, commonly found in products ranging from diapers and other hygiene products. The team has selected the process for further scale-up.

“Cargill came together with BASF and Novozymes to do what had not been done ever before. We have been working together for less than two years and we have made great progress toward our common goal,” said Jack Staloch, VP of Research and Development at Cargill. ”It’s a great example of what can be accomplished when industry leaders with unique expertise in biotechnology and chemistry come together to create new innovations.”

Currently, acrylic acid is produced by the oxidation of propylene derived mainly from the refining of crude oil. In August 2012, the three companies announced a collaboration to develop a process for the conversion of renewable raw materials into bio-based acrylic acid. In July 2013, the partners successfully demonstrated the production of 3-hydroxypropionic acid (3-HP), one possible precursor to acrylic acid, at pilot scale.

BASF, the world’s largest producer of acrylic acid, says it initially plans to use the bio-based acrylic acid to manufacture superabsorbent polymers.

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“After just 18 months, we have selected the preferred process to convert 3-HP into glacial acrylic acid. Now we are working full force on the set-up of a small integrated pilot plant until the end of this year,” said Teressa Szelest, SVP of Global Hygiene Business at BASF.

Together with the pilot plant for 3-HP, operated by Cargill and supported by Novozymes, this will further support BASF’s plans for fast market entry of superabsorbent polymers derived from bio-based acrylic acid.

“We are pleased to see the project progressing with high pace and commitment towards commercialization,” said Kristian Bjørneboe, VP of Business Creation and Acquisition at Novozymes. “We are refining and pursuing options on how to move quickly towards commercial scale production of 3-HP to acrylic acid to meet market demands for consumer goods based on renewable raw materials. Meanwhile, strain and fermentation optimization towards commercial scale requirements is progressing steadily.”

Superabsorbent polymers and other products derived from bio-based acrylic acid will be an innovative offer to the market and will meet consumer and industry demand for consumer goods based on renewable raw materials and sustainable supply chains.

In April, an Israeli nanotech company called Cine’al Ltd. announced it may have found another source of bio-based diaper material that could potentially eliminate two pesky issues — the growing proliferation of jellyfish, which in tropical and Mediterranean areas are clogging up industrial piping systems, frustrating fishermen, and stinging and creeping-out beach-goers; and waste from disposable diapers, which are reportedly the third-largest single consumer item in landfills, and represent about 4 percent of solid waste. Cine’al Ltd. is developing technology to break down jellyfish flesh and add nanoparticles to create a highly absorbent, biodegradable material called “Hydromash,” which could then be used in a variety of paper products including diapers, sponges, paper towels and tampons — which could be a win-win, unless you’re an animal rights activist.

In less ethically ambiguous renewable materials news, BASF is hard at work developing bio-based replacements to traditionally fossil-based feedstocks and recently launched a versatile, high-performance polyamide called Ultramid®, which is derived from renewable raw materials — the company says it replaces up to 100 percent of the fossil-based resources used at the beginning of the integrated production process with certified biomass. BASF also says the resulting polymer is identical to traditional fossil-based polyamides in terms of formulation and quality but results in lower greenhouse gas emissions.

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