Canadian Plastics

NatureWorks to expand PLA capacity at Nebraska manufacturing plant

The manufacturing upgrades increase NatureWorks' responsiveness to changing market dynamics and high demand for its Ingeo biomaterials.

September 23, 2020   Canadian Plastics

NatureWorks’ plant in Blair, Nebraska. Photo Credit: NatureWorks LLC

Bioplastics supplier NatureWorks LLC is undertaking a series of manufacturing technology projects that will increase the availability of its Ingeo polylactic acid (PLA) biomaterials portfolio by 10 per cent.

One of the projects currently underway is the installation NatureWorks’ facility in Blair, Nebraska, of lactide monomer purification technology for the Ingeo material. In a Sept. 22 press release, NatureWorks – which is headquartered in Minnetonka, Minn. – described the Blair plant as the world’s first and largest commercial-scale PLA manufacturing plant.

The project will be completed by the end of 2021, NatureWorks said.

“The expanded availability will support growth in markets that demand sustainable, low-carbon materials and require the high-performance attributes that Ingeo is uniquely suited to deliver,” the company said. “These markets include 3D printing and nonwoven hygiene masks as well as compostable coffee capsules, teabags, and coated-paper food serviceware.”

“The market continues to rapidly evolve due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the undiminished demand for sustainable, bio-based alternatives to petrochemical-based plastics,” said Rich Altice, the company’s president and CEO. “For NatureWorks to satisfy this unprecedented demand, this purification technology is one of many additional capital improvements we are actively working on at our facility in Blair. At the same time, we continue to pursue a potential future second manufacturing site outside the U.S. to serve our growing international markets.”

Ingeo PLA is made in a multi-step process that begins with using annually renewable plants to turn greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into long-chain sugar molecules. Dextrose, derived from the plant sugar molecules, is fermented into lactic acid that then undergoes a proprietary two-step process to transform it into lactide, the monomer for Ingeo PLA.

Also, as part of NatureWorks’ participation in the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment program, the company announced a new initiative in 2019 to ensure that by 2020 100 per cent of the agricultural feedstock used for Ingeo made at their Blair production site will be certified as environmentally and socially sustainable by the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification System (ISCC). By 2025, NatureWorks also committed that 100 per cent of new feedstocks for additional manufacturing capacity will be certified as sustainably and responsibly managed via an independent third-party administered program.


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