February 11, 2006

NatureWorks PLA


NatureWorks has innovated production of a new fiber, polylactide (PLA), derived from an annually renewable resource - corn. This new process basically captures plant carbon by isolating lactic acid which is converted to polylactide, a spinnable fiber with robust, competitive material properties. Applications for polylactide are promising (NatureWorks products are already widely distributed) - including everything from food packaging to clothing and home product fibers. Indeed, not only is PLA estimated to reduce fossil fuel production inputs by 50% over traditional petroleum-based products, but it's also compostable (the above image spans 58 days at 60°C, 95% humidity).

Sound too good to be true? Some consider that to be the case. NatureWorks is a subsidiary of Cargill, a mutilnational agribusiness that has effectively cornered the market on genetically modified corn. Cargill's claims that cost-effective corn-based PLA production prohibits it from sorting ge from non-ge corn has been heavily criticized by several environmental organizations. In 2001 Patagonia terminated a developing partnership with NatureWorks (to replace some of its petroleum-based apparel products with NatureWorks' PLA-based Ingeo fibers) on the grounds that the unknown ecological risks of ge corn outweighed PLA's environmental benefits. For its part, NatureWorks claims that it will explore PLA production from other non-ge plant sources, but for now, genetically modified corn seems to be their carbon source of choice. It's a first step.

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Posted by cdierks at February 11, 2006 3:03 PM

This is awesome. Excluding the ge/non-ge debate, this technology really does seem like a promising first step toward the reduction of non-recyclable plastic wastes produced by food and packaging corporations. I would like to know what other plastic products can be replaced by a biodegradable fiber of the same quality. I also make use of composte so that is a major plus.


Posted by: Jonathan Villegas at April 23, 2006 8:16 PM
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