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NatureWorks Bioplastic Emissions Report: Low and Going Lower

Due to new production technologies that reduce energy demand, the production of NatureWorks' bio-based Ingeo polymers emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions than common plastics.

An analysis of the impacts of Ingeo from raw material extraction through pellet production, published in Industrial Biotechnology, shows the difference that technology changes have had compared to Ingeo's impacts from 2005 and on.

Ingeo is derived from starch from genetically modified corn, and is used to make packaging, utensils, cleaning wipes, clothing and other products. NatureWorks, a Cargill subsidiary, produces Ingeo out of a plant in Blair, Neb., but is planning to build a second production facility.

The peer-reviewed article [PDF] shows all of the energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) inputs and outputs from the planting, harvesting, plant sugar fermentation and resin production stages of Ingeo.

In 2005, NatureWorks' Ingeo-related GHG emissions were 2 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per kg of Ingeo. In 2009 that figure dropped to 1.3 kg, and NatureWorks wants to bring it down to 0.8 kg. Comparatively, the emissions for related production stages for PVC is 1.9 kg, polypropylene is 1.9 kg, PET is 3.2 kg and polystyrene is 3.4 kg.

In addition, as corn that will become Ingeo grows, it absorbs enough CO2 equivalent to 61 percent of the total emissions of Ingeo production.

NatureWorks is also using less non-renewable energy to product Ingeo. In 2005 it used 50 megajoules of non-renewable energy per kg of Ingeo. In 2009 it was down to 42 MJ, and NatureWorks is aiming to bring it down to 35 MJ.

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