Biobode develops glycerin-to-plastic technology

By Erin Voegele | November 13, 2008
Web exclusive posted Nov. 19, 2008 at 8:56 a.m. CST

Ireland-based Biobode Ltd. is developing technology that converts crude glycerin into commodity plastics. According to Chief Executive Officer Scott O'Connor, glycerin accounts for 20 percent to 38 percent of the plastic's volume, measured by weight. The remainder of the material is made from low-cost commodity chemicals.

The company is currently working on a bench-scale, and has scaled up to producing 1 kilogram of glycerin-based plastic. "We have plans to scale up to 5 kilograms next," O'Connor said. He estimated it will take approximately 18 months to improve the plastic's physical properties, at which point the company plans to produce it on a pilot-scale.

Making a useful polymer out of glycerin is complicated, O'Connor said. Historically, there has been difficulty using glycerin to produce plastic because it creates a cross-linked polymer that has no significant commercial value. "This has been a persistent limitation with glycerol since the 1930s," O'Connor said. Until recently, only low molecular weight polymers containing small amounts of glycerin were created. "We have overcome this, and our cost-efficient proprietary process produces a high molecular weigh polymer made of 20 to 38 percent glycerol," he said. "The process is akin to standard polymer reaction; therefore it would be feasible to produce industrially."

Biobode has been working to develop the technology for two-and-a-half years, and has successfully injection molded test components made of the glycerin-based material. "Currently, we need more development to define an exact commercial application for the plastic, but are working on foaming and fiber versions," O'Connor said. "We would envision this plastic being used in many of the commodity applications you see around us everyday."

Due to the glycerin's current low value, O'Connor said Biobode's plastic would cost 15 percent or 25 percent less than petroleum-based commodity plastics, depending on whether crude or technical grade glycerin is used.

Biobode is currently seeking partners to further develop and commercialize the technology. While O'Connor didn't want to share technical information on the technology due to its proprietary nature, he said Biobode would share specific information with potential partners under confidentiality agreements.
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