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PLA (PolyLactic Acid) : an ambitious research project

In partnership with Galactic, Total Petrochemicals is venturing into the development of a new production technology for PLA, a bioplastic of renewable vegetable origin.

"The packaging market has been asking us for a number of years what we can offer them in terms of biopolymers, in particular from a renewable resource viewpoint" explains Guy Debras, Research Director Polyolefins at Total Petrochemicals. "With this ambitious research project, we are planning to build a 1,500 tonne/year pilot plant for PLA production in Belgium which we are launching with our partner Galactic and with the support of the Wallonia Region as part of the Wallonia "Marshall" Plan competitive hubs." The project provides for a research phase of minimum four years, a time scale which should allow Total Petrochemicals to offer a second generation PLA range with superior properties.

PLA, a polymer that complements petroleum-based plastics

Bioassimilable by the human body, PLA has already been used for over twenty years in the biomedical sector to produce suture thread, pins and drug encapsulation. "The latest research programmes", explains Guy Debras, "have also shown that its use could be extended to other areas: textile fibres, disposable cups, food packaging, etc." Indeed, beyond its biodegradable and biorenewable nature, PLA aptly complements the range of traditional commodity polymers.

"Eventually, as a polymer, PLA could complement polymers derived from fossils such as PS, PP and PE", confirms Jean-Michel Brusson, Head of R&D for the Biopolymers Unit. "The purpose of our research is not to replace the other commodity polymers. PLA will find its own place based on its specific properties and functionalities".


PackScope n. 31 ­ october 2007

Renewable resources: producing plastics from sugar

"To produce PLA, explains Gloria Vendrell, Polyethylene Film Market Manager, producers currently process sugar beet or sugar cane into a raw juice (sucrose). Once fermented, the juice produces lactic acid. The equivalent of naphtha in petrochemicals, this lactic acid produces a monomer, lactide, which is then polymerised into PLA." "Other renewable resources are already being considered for the future, continues Jean-Michel Brusson. Eventually, why not use biomass (forestry residues) and certain food waste (molasses)? We still have a long way to go, but this raw material supply issue will be a major point for the long term of the technology."

Galactic, a world leader in lactic acid

Interview with Philippe Coszach, Business Development and Research Manager at Galactic.

As regards the launch of the PLA production pilot plant, what time scale do you envisage to switch to the industrial production stage?

Philippe Coszach: We shall devote two years to building the pilot plant. At the end of the two years, we shall be in a position to market our first generation PLA production. We believe that we will need a further two years to validate all the technological issues of the process: material balance, energy efficiency, process, etc., before we can even consider entering the actual industrial phase.

What marks you out from the competition?

stand out from the existing product range. This technology, boosted by the expertise provided by Total Petrochemicals in the development of second generation PLA, will allow us to offer products that will easily complement traditional commodity polymers in terms of cost and process.

PLA from non-GM raw materials?

Ph. C.: Based in Belgium, our pilot plant will clearly call upon local nonGM raw material. And when we move up to a more industrial phase, our requirements will remain the same in terms of feedstock.

Ph. C.: In fifteen years of research and development, we have drawn up a technology that helps us

For more information on Galactic, go to:

PackScope n. 31 ­ october 2007



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