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Dow and Crystalsev to Make Polyethylene from Sugar Cane Ethanol in Brazil

The Dow Chemical Company, the world’s largest producer of polyethylene, and Crystalsev, one of Brazil’s largest ethanol players, plan to form a joint venture to manufacture polyethylene from sugar cane ethanol. With production expected to start in 2011, the plant will have an annual capacity of 350,000 metric tons.

The new facility will use ethanol with Dow’s proprietary technology to manufacture DOWLEXT polyethylene resins—the raw material required to make polyethylene, the world’s most widely-used plastic.

At a molecular level, the joint venture’s product will be identical to the DOWLEXT polyethylene resins manufactured at other Dow facilities.  The new material is a drop-in replacement made with a renewable resource—not a different polymer altogether. Also, like the traditional PE product, the sugar cane-based polyethylene would be fully recyclable using existing infrastructure.

Ethylene is traditionally produced using either naphtha or natural gas liquids, both of which are petroleum products. The partners estimate that the new process will produce significantly less CO2 compared to the traditional polyethylene manufacturing process.

The companies have already begun conducting a feasibility study to assess various aspects of the project, including engineering design, location, infrastructure needs, supply chain logistics, energy and economics. The study, which is expected to take one year, will also look at the possibility of receiving approval for the project and the process as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The CDM was developed by the United Nations to help companies manage their carbon credits from emerging market projects.

The areas being considered as potential sites for the new facility are currently being used for low-density cattle grazing and are not near any rain forests. Both companies have underscored their commitment to ensuring that the plant is located in a sustainable environment.



So, do we call this a "bioplastic" despite its non-biodegradable?


If it is non-biodegradable, then it is CO2 sequestration. That is not so bad.


The take-home message here is that the chemicals industry is capable of leaving petroleum behind.

P Schager

Biosourced polyethylene would be an alternate source for the most common plastic material used. Besides being a blow to petroleum's dominance, this is also part of the case for keeping the biofuels program healthy, including ethanol. Even if we were to move on to 100% BEV's in just a few years, biomaterials will be able to absorb all of the production we will be able to muster anytime soon. Besides making the stuff now made from fossil fuels, in a world no longer resigned to eco plunder ways will be found to have biomaterials replace much of what is now mined, while supporting a growing world population.

As ethanol is moving down the learning curve, Dow's technology should help cap the price of petroleum and also help protect ethanol against problems selling all their production due to poor cooperation from oil companies and automakers, plus moody governments. They should have the "from thin air" plastic products labeled so that consumers can look for them.

It's a way that biofuels-derived products can become carbon-negative, given enough solar inputs (already done in Brazil). Of course, some of it will end up in waste-to-energy plants; in this case the cycle is carbon neutral.


Maybe not biodegradable, but "fully recyclable using existing infrastructure." You can't have everything.


Fully recyclable plastics from biomass doubles as a form of carbon sequestration.

Paul Dietz

One nice thing about making ethylene from ethanol is that you don't have to fully separate the water and alcohol.


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