Brazil's Braskem leads in industrial production of 'green' plastic

Brazil-based Braskem, the largest petrochemical company in Latin America, said it is the first company in the world to produce “green” plastic on an industrial scale.

Braskem is the world's leading company in the production of biopolymers. The industrial scale-size production of “green polyethylene” is possible following the investment of $290 million U.S. in a plant in Triunfo, in Rio Grande do Sul, Braskem Spokeswoman Ana Paschoal said in an email response to an inquiry sent to the company.

“Because of its performance with the green plastic, Braskem has been the only Brazilian company listed among the 50 most innovative companies of the world,” Paschoal said.

Unlike the traditional polyethylene, which is derived from hydrocarbons primarily from crude oil, “green polyethylene is made from ethanol obtained through the processing of sugar cane,” Paschoal said.

“The main advantage of the product is not in its characteristics, which are very similar to those of common plastic, but in the fact that they have their origin in plants,” Paschoal said. 

“Braskem was the first company to market green plastic at an industrial scale,” Paschoal said. It is identified by the “I´m Green” registered trademark. This plastic not only captures carbon dioxide emissions in the process but also 80 percent of the energy consumed during the process comes from a renewable source.

In Brazil part of the sugar cane residues are normally used to generate energy for ethanol processing.

Braskem took two years of studies by a special team that was part of its innovation and technology division to develop the green plastic. A total of $5 million was spent just in the developing stage involving a group of 20 people, including chemical engineers and scientists. The resin was initially introduced and certified in 2010, Paschoal said.

The plastic can be used in the same way as regular plastic and the recycling is also similar to the traditional polyethylene recycling.

The plastic's uses include packaging of diverse products including food and cleaning materials. Braskem earlier this year signed accords with Belgium company Nomacorc to supply this plastic for use in wine packaging, Paschoal said.

To make green plastic, the ethanol goes through a dehydration process and it is transformed into a gas which in the presence of a catalyst reacts and forms the polymer. It is already used in all continents, the company said.

Traditional polyethylene is one of the most commonly used plastics and it is normally most often found in plastic bags as well as gallon-size milk containers.

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Braskem S.A.

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