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.