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Polylactic Acid

Mathew Reddick

Outline
What is polylactic acid?
History
Uses and Applications
Making Polylactic Acid
The Big Picture (overview)
Questions
References

What is polylactic acid (PLA)?


Highly versatile thermoplastic material
Made from 100% renewable resources
Lactic acid is derived from various sources
Corn
Sugar Beets
Wheat

History
1932: Carothers (DuPont) created PLA
1954: DuPont patented Carothers process
Extremely high cost of production
1997: Cargill Dow Polymers LLC forms
2001: 300 million pounds produced at the Blair,
Nebraska plant

Cargill-Dow LLC Plant.


Blair, Nebraska.

History of Production
Producer

2000
Million lb/yr*

2001
2002
Million lb/yr ** Million lb/yr**

Cargill Dow LLC

16

300

300

Mitsui Chemicals

1.3

1.3

1.3

Cost US$ / lb

1.5/2.0

1.0

0.5

* Chemical Week V162, 2000 & Plastics Week, Jan17, 2000


** http://www.cdpoly.com/release.asp?id=87

Uses and Applications


Extrusion
Sheet, profile

Blow molding
Bottles, etc.

Vacuum forming
Blister packages

Injection molding

Uses Continued
Compares well with currently used packaging
materials
Clear/glossy like polystyrene
Odor barrier/ gas permeability similar PET
(used for soft drinks and many other food products)

Nonvolatile and odorless, classified as GRAS by


FDA.
GRAS: Generally Recognized As Safe
Safe for all food and packaging applications

Current Products from PLA

Production of PLA
Start with starch from renewable resource
Unrefined dextrose processed from starch
Dextrose fermented into lactic acid
Lactide produced through condensation
Purification through vacuum distillation
Solvent-free melt polymerization

Non-Solvent Process to Prepare Polylactic


Acid.

Prepolymer

Acid

Unconverted
Polymer

Dextrose

PLA
Polymer
Corn

Lactide
Formation

Meso
Lactide

Polymerization
Coordination / Insertion
Propagation

Low D
Lactide

Cargill Dow LLC Process. Gruber, et. al. 2000.

Distillation

Lactic

Distillation

By heating catalyst.

Fermentation

Unmaking Polylactic Acid


Fully combustible in composting facilities
Can be converted back to monomer
Can be completely broken down to H20,
CO2, and organics
Degradation time: weeks to months

Degradation
CH3

Hydrolysis and cleavage of the


ester linkage
CH

O
O

HO
O

O
n
H

CH3

High Molecular Weight


Prepolymer

O
O

OH

CH3
CH3
O
n

CH3

CH3

OH OH CH3
CH3

O
n

OH
O

Low Molecular Weight Prepolymer


Mw=2,000 10,000

OH

O
O

CH3

HO

Opoly

Mw>100,000

CH3

Opoly

HO
O

Opoly

Criticisms
PLA releases carbon dioxide and methane
during the biological breakdown phase
Fossil fuels still needed to produce PLA
Some believe that PLA will degrade too
slowly to make a difference in waste
streams

The Big Picture


Biodegradable: Less landfill space!
1500 pounds of waste per year for every person
Plastic materials account for 20% (vol.) of
landfills

20-50% less fossil fuels used in production


than in petroleum based polymers
No net increase in CO2 emissions

Questions/Comments?

Referneces

Auras, Rafael. Polylactic Acid as a New Biodegradable Commodity polymer.


Internet. www.msu.edu/~aurasraf/

Balkcom, Melisa. Notes from the Packaging Laboratory: Polylactic Acid -- An


Exciting New Packaging Material. Internet. edis.ifas.ufl.edu/AE210

Cargill Dow. "Company Website." Internet. www.cdpoly.com

Kirkpatrick, Neil. "Life Cycle Assessment." Internet.


http://www.residua.com/previous/WB47-LCA.html

Lunt, James and Shafer, Andrew. "Polylactic Acid Polymers from Corn:
Potential Applications in the Textiles Industry."
http://www.cdpoly.com/pdf/lunttech.pdf