October 24-30, 2011

ICIS Chemical Business
41 www.icis.com
chemicals will have to back up a foreseen
shortage of C3–C6 carbon chains,” says Naoki
Enatsu, general manager, green chemicals
business department at Mitsui’s specialty
chemicals division.
The company notes that it has been trying
to move from fossil resources to biomass ones
since the early 1990s. MCC also says it has
been engaged in the development of bioplas-
tics and biochemicals for more than 20 years.
The trend towards bio-based chemicals has
never been stronger for Japanese companies
than now, says Andrew Soare, industry ana-
lyst for US-based consulting firm Lux Re-
search. Japanese chemical companies have
very strong market pull, he says, and are in a
unique position to bring new materials to
commercial scale.
“These companies in most cases are engag-
ing with non-Japanese firms to access foreign
Japan speeds up
greening process
Japanese chemical companies are increasing their investments in renewable chemicals
research and development with a series of joint ventures
apanese chemical companies such as
Mitsubishi Chemical Company (MCC),
Mitsui & Co., Toray Industries and
Kuraray among others, are searching
upstream in their quest for alternative petro-
chemical feedstocks and sustainable chemis-
try through development collaborations with
several US renewable chemical firms.
Japan mainly imports its petroleum-based
raw materials, so is dependent on the price of
oil. Renewable chemicals could give its firms a
chance to re-establish their position in the in-
dustry, says Shigeru Handa, general manager
of the sustainable resource business develop-
ment department at MCC’s petrochemicals re-
search and development (R&D) division.
Another reason that Japanese chemical
companies are going towards renewables
might be because of the lack of venture capital
start-ups in Japan, Handa notes. “Compared
to the US, where various ventures are compet-
ing for renewable chemicals, Japan does not
‘culture’ a system for new ventures to come
out easily. Instead of new ventures, large cor-
porations have to be directly involved in these
new technologies,” he says.
Mitsui agrees that the changing chemical
feedstock landscape is helping to shape bio-
based chemical development – not just bio-
plastics – in Japan. The country depends
heavily on oil-based naphtha for chemical
“Because of the light feedstock trend of
ethane cracker capacity increases in the Mid-
dle East and from shale gas development in
the US, operations of naphtha crackers are
being affected, and in turn, will affect feed-
stock supply for certain chemicals. Green
The country aims to
use more bio-based

www.icis.com 42
ICIS Chemical Business
October 24-30, 2011
innovation and also foreign feedstocks.
Similarly, the developing bio-based chemical
companies need market pull to enter the
growing Asian chemical market and often rely
on partnerships with Japanese chemical com-
panies to access these markets,” Soare says.
This year alone saw several Japanese joint
venture and collaboration deals within the re-
newable chemicals sector.
MCC has partnered with Thailand-based
petrochemical firm PTT Group to form the
50:50 joint venture PTT MCC Biochem Com-
pany, which aims to produce the bioplastic
polybutylene succinate trademarked GSPla in
a 20,000 tonne/year facility that will be built
in Map Ta Phut, Thailand. The sugar-derived
biodegradable aliphatic polyester is said to
have similar properties to polyethylene (PE).
PTT MCC also has partnered with US-
based biosuccinic acid producer BioAmber
for succinic acid feedstock supply to the
plant. The facility is expected to start in 2014.
This year, MCC also announced a memo-
randum of understanding with US-based re-
newable chemicals firm Genomatica to study
potential areas of collaboration involving bio
1,4 butanediol.
MCC’s renewable chemicals strategy, ac-
cording to Handa, is to make bio-based chemi-
cals with the exact same properties as petrole-
um-based ones. MCC has plans to replace
some of its basic raw materials such as C3 and
C4 with renewable-based alternatives. “From
this point of view, we will not find challenges
in the supply chain since it should be the
same as what we are using now,” he adds.
Last year, Mitsui also teamed up with Bio-
Amber to distribute bio-succinic acid and
derivatives exclusively in Asia. One of Mit-
sui’s biggest bio-based chemical projects an-
nounced this year is its 50:50 joint venture
partnership with US-based Dow Chemical
for the production of PE that will be back-in-
tegrated to a planned sugarcane ethanol facil-
ity in Brazil.
Under the deal, Mitsui would become an
equity interest partner in Santa Vitoria Acucar
e Alcool, Dow’s sugarcane growing operations
in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Mitsui’s Enatsu ex-
pects to build a 350,000 tonne/year bio-PE
plant in Brazil through the venture.
“Location of green chemicals commerciali-
zation is very important and should be situat-
ed where biomass feedstock is available with
competitive conditions such as in North
America, Brazil and Asia,” says Enatsu. “We
are aiming to invest in other building blocks
in North America and Asia, which we expect
to announce within the next month or so.”
Japan’s Toray and Kuraray also have formed
partnerships with US-based bio-butanol pro-
ducer Gevo and renewable chemicals firm
Amyris, respectively.
In June, Toray and Gevo announced that
they were able to produce, in laboratory scale,
100% bio-based polyethylene terephthalate
(PET) using Gevo’s isobutanol-based paraxy-
lene (PX). The companies are moving from
lab-scale proof-of-concept to establishing
commercial-scale operations for bio-PX.
In an investor meeting held in September,
Gevo said it expects the bio-PX project to go to
pilot stage in 2012 and is targeting commer-
cialization by 2014.
In August, Kuraray and Amyris announced
their partnership to develop polymers using
Amyris’ farnesene-based building block Bi-
ofene. Farnesene is a sesquiterpene molecule
that is part of a larger class of chemical com-
pounds called terpenes. Amyris’ farnesene is
derived from sugar.
They plan to use Biofene to replace petro-
chemicals such as butadiene (BD) and iso-
prene in the production of certain high-per-
forming polymers. On successful completion
of the development program for the first poly-
mer, they expect to enter a supply deal for
Kuraray’s exclusive use of Biofene in the man-
ufacturing of the targeted polymer products.
Japan’s Toyota Tsusho is expecting to start
commercial operation of the world’s first bio-
PET integrated supply chain that will include
procuring bioethanol, the production of bio-
monoethylene glycol (MEG) and tolling and
marketing of bio-PET later this year. Toyota
Tsusho has established Greencol Taiwan in a
50:50 joint venture with Taiwan-based China
Man-Made Fiber Corp. (CMFC) for a 100,000
tonne/year bio-MEG production plant located
in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
Toyota Tshusho will handle all the bio-
MEG from Greencol Taiwan and supply the
intermediate chemical to PET manufacturers
on a tolling basis. The bio-PET produced is
expected to be sold to end-users in Japan, Eu-
rope and the US.
Mitsui and MCC agree that Japanese consum-
ers are at the forefront when it comes to pref-
erence for more eco-friendly products.
“Attention is focused on biomass plastics and
biodegradable plastics, which have smaller en-
vironmental impact than conventional plas-
tics,” says Enatsu. “In Japan, biodegradable
plastics are being used in mulch film and seed-
ling pots, in farming, and in bags for collecting
kitchen waste bound for composting facilities.”
Japanese auto firms such as Toyota and
Mazda have been incorporating the green con-
cept into purchasing strategies. MCC notes
Toyota was among the first large companies
worldwide to commit to using bioplastics.
In August, Toyota announced that it has
adopted DuPont’s Sorona EP thermoplastic
resin in the instrument panel air-conditioning
system outlet for its new hybrid vehicle Prius
Alpha, which was launched in May in Japan.
The polymers contain between 20% and 37%
sugar-based materials by weight.
Since late 2009, Toyota has also been using
DuPont’s Zytel RS renewably-sourced nylon
resin incorporated in radiator end tanks for its
Camry model. The resin was developed for
this use in collaboration with Japanese auto-
motive system supplier Denso.
Mazda says it has been using biofabric for
seat covers and door trim in its Premacy Hy-
drogen RE Hybrid models, which were intro-
Hybrid cars are getting
a green chemicals
“We are aiming to invest in
other building blocks in North
America and Asia”
General manager, green chemicals business, Mitsui
www.icis.com October 24-30, 2011
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duced in 2007, using polylactic acid (PLA)
bioplastic developed in collaboration with
Japanese polymers firm Teijin.
PLA is still the dominant bioplastic in
Japan, occupying 70–80% of the Japanese bio-
plastics market, notes Jim Lunt, managing di-
rector for US consulting firm Jim Lunt and
Associates. Other bioplastic products com-
mercialized in Japan include starch-based
blends and polybutylene succinate.
The Japanese government has a goal of hav-
ing 20% of all plastics consumed in the coun-
try renewably sourced by 2020, says Lunt.
“Japanese consumers, in my opinion, will pay
more than [those in] other geographies if they
believe in the environmental benefits and can
help Japan meet the Kyoto Protocol require-
ment of reducing greenhouse gases.”
Teijin intends to develop further applications
of its heat-resistant PLA-based bioplastic
trademarked BIOFRONT to the electronics
and automotive fields. The company also de-
veloped plant-derived polycarbonates (PC) for
use in automotive, electronics, medical, food
and cosmetic packaging applications, as well
as partially bio-derived PET fiber ECO CIRCLE
that contains roughly 30%
sugar-based ethylene glycol.
Teijin expects to start full-
scale production of its ECO
CIRCLE plant fiber in April
2012. “This will be the
world’s first commercial pro-
duction of bio-derived
PET fiber,” says
Teijin spokesman Rie Mashiba. “Expected ap-
plications range from apparel and car seats/
interiors to personal hygiene products, and as
a raw material for polyester fiber products.”
Teijin says it also has succeeded in produc-
ing bio-PET with 100% bio-content.
Aside from MCC’s GSPla, Handa also notes
the company’s bio-based engineering plastic
product DURABIO, made from sugar-based
isosorbide monomers. MCC started offering
the bioplastic this year in locations such as in
Japan, US, Europe and Korea. “We started our
DURABIO pilot plant last August, and we are
receiving extremely good responses from our
potential customers about it,” says Handa.
He says the main markets for GSPla will be
in Europe and US. “These countries have regu-
lations to use compostable products, and GSP-
la’s biodegradable characteristic meets the
needs in these markets. Also, it is difficult for
Japan to become a major market for GSPla since
most of our waste is incinerated,” adds Handa.
Despite numerous developments, Lunt es-
timates bioplastic growth in Japan is behind
the US and Europe in terms of consumption.
“Introducing new products into the market
typically takes considerably longer than other
geographies due to strict regulations,” says
Lunt. “Bioplastic production in Japan is also
challenged by available feedstocks, produc-
tion economics as well as cultural differences.
I think we will see more [joint ventures] and
investments by Japanese companies in other
parts of Asia but bioplastic manufacturing
within Japan will remain limited.” O
“Large corporations have to
be directly involved in these
new technologies”
General manager, Mitsubishi Chemical Company
1o hnd out more about ICIS petrochemicaI training courses, visit www.icis.com/PetChem1rainingCourses
Procurement Manager in a
specialty chemicals company

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