New process will turn more corn into plastic

New process will turn more corn into plastic

Iowa Corn Promotion Board is in final stages of getting a patent on new method to make plastic bottles and other products.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently published a patent application (U.S. patent number 2015/0329449) from the Iowa Corn Promotion Board for a new production method using corn in the industrial manufacturing of a raw material called monoethylene glycol, or MEG.

"Patenting this research will lead to advances in the production processes for corn based bio-MEG eliminating the need for the petroleum ethylene derivatives currently used. This will create more demand for Iowa corn," says Chris Weydert, a farmer from Algona who serves as an Iowa Corn Promotion Board director. He is also vice chair of Iowa Corn's research and business development committee.

CORN CHECKOFF AT WORK: Research funded by the Iowa corn checkoff has developed a way to use corn more efficiently in the manufacturing of plastic beverage bottles, polyester textiles and other biobased products.

"This one switch to a more renewable material will reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and improve the environmental footprint for hundreds of consumer products," says Weydert.

ICPB's patent application accepted for biobased manufacturing

Most MEG currently goes into making polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, a plastic used for beverage bottles, polyester textiles and films; but MEG can also be used as anti-freeze, coolants, aircraft deicers and industrial solvents. A large proportion of the current bio-MEG that is produced goes into making the biorenewable bottles for Coca-Cola, Heinz and PepsiCo. 

The traditional way bio-MEG is made is through a conversion of sugarcane ethanol, which is usually sourced from Brazil, to ethylene, but still the majority of MEG comes from oil. ICPB's new process can eliminate this added cost of bio-MEG by going from corn sugar to MEG in one step.

"Depending on the yield of MEG conversion from corn, it would take greater than 1.2 billion bushels of corn to saturate the entire 2016 projected demand of MEG," explains Weydert. "Any MEG made from corn would not only be biorenewable, but also a direct replacement for what plastic manufacturers are already using."

Corn will play a role in expanding the use of renewable products

Improved manufacturing processes for biobased materials will continue to expand the renewable products market. According to Transparency Market Research (TMR), a global market intelligence company providing business information reports, the global monoethylene glycol, or MEG, market stood at $27 billion in 2014 and is anticipated to reach $40 billion in 2023.

Investment of checkoff dollars in research and business development allows for a direct return on Iowa corn farmer investments. Consequently, Iowa Corn Promotion Board research programs have continued to grow. ICPB research programs aim to find new and innovative uses of corn, such as plastics and industrial chemicals. ICPB is developing and licensing intellectual property to partner with companies; this strategy will increase the commercialization of new products related to corn, and create new opportunities for corn farmers.

"ICPB has been working on the MEG research project since 2013," says Mark Heckman, president of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board and a farmer from West Liberty. "We are excited to have the biobased MEG production patent application made known to the public. We are hopeful that the patent will be granted in the near future.

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