global race to develop sustainable feedstocks that replace petrochemicals, a
Minnesota company is quietly pounding a major stake in the ground.
Segetis, founded in
2007, has developed new-to-the-world molecules based on levulinic acid esters
made from corn cobs and bio-based hydroxyl compounds.
chemical building blocks are called levulinic ketals and can be used to make a
variety of products, including solvents, plasticizers and polyols for
to have commercial products in each of those groups by the end of 2011," says Snehal
Desai, business vice president at Segetis.
of monomers are now being delivered to development partners from a semi-works
production facility built in Minneapolis in 2009. Capacity at the plant is
250,000 pounds per year. Segetis has commissioned construction of a toll
manufacturing plant in the Midwest that will be online early next year.
Commercial products will enter the market, starting with solvents. Polyols will
be last because of significant functional testing requirements.
For now, Segetis
is sourcing levulinic acid from China, but longer term the company may use wood
residue from pulp and paper production as a feedstock.
PolyOne Corp., a major compounder, announced an agreement with Segetis to
explore the development of bio-derived plasticizers for use in bio-based
polymers. Another potential outcome could be the replacement of phthalate
plasticizers which make PVC and other plastics flexible. Two specific types of
phthalate plasticizers have been under fire over concerns about exposure to
children. "We are working on a straight-up replacement of phthalates in PVC,"
says Desai. One advantage of the ketal monomers is that they appear to attach
firmly to the PVC molecule. Another is their all-natural origins.
major opportunity for the new chemistry is the manufacture of polyols which
combine with iscoyanates to produce polyurethane.
made from our ketals have an inherent rigidity in their backbone structure,"
says Desai. "As a result it is possible to reduce the isocyanate levels to
obtain similar levels of properties. So the use of our monomers is as much a
performance play as it is a carbon footprint play."
agricultural feedstocks has been a hot story
in polyurethane foams for the past two years.
more than two million Ford vehicles on the road today with bio foam content.
Ford's use of bio foam has helped the company reduce its petroleum oil usage by
more than three million pounds annually and carbon dioxide emissions by 11
million pounds. Ford's biofoam is based on soy feedstock in a program partially
funded by the United Soybean Board, a U.S. farmer-led organization.
foam reportedly costs less than petrochemical-based foam, helping fuel the
explosion in its use the past two years.
the polyols produced by Segetis are expected to cost about the same as polyols
made from petroleum resources. But the economics for formulators will be
improved through reduced use of isocyanates. "We believe there is a total cost
picture that is favorable for the ketal chemistry," says Desai.
founded by Sergey and Olga Selifonov, a Russian couple now living in the
patents disclose a series of glycerol-derived compounds that are based on the
formation of a ketal with the ketone group of levulinic acid.
Glycerol-levulinate ketal compounds can be produced by reacting approximately
one molar equivalent of glycerol with approximately one molar equivalent of
levulinic acid in the presence of an acid catalyst, and under conditions
allowing for removal of water, typically by distillation.
process is less costly than some competing bioplastic processes that require
Longer range, Segetis may attempt to develop
other plastics with its monomer technology. For example, levulinic acid is a
potential precursor to polyamide-like polymers and synthetic rubbers. One of
the investors in Segetis is DSM, a Dutch producer of polyamides (nylons) and
other high-performance plastics.