NatureWorks

Your yogurt package, your disposable fork and spoon and even your credit card and shirt all potentially could be made from biopolymers derived from renewable resources and manufactured by NatureWorks in Blair, Neb. While these products are more commonly made from oil-based plastics, NatureWorks biopolymers are increasingly being used in these products and more worldwide.

Started by Cargill and now an independent company also partially owned by Thailand-based PTT Global Chemical, NatureWorks developed a technology to process natural plant sugars into Ingeo, the company’s proprietary polylactide polymer that can compete both in terms of cost and performance with petroleum-based packaging materials and fibers.

Forty of the company’s 110 employees worldwide work at its 40,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Blair. NatureWorks’ primary feedstock is the sugar from field corn grown from producers within a 30-mile radius of Blair.

The company has extensively researched Ingeo’s green value: Manufacturing Ingeo produces 60 percent less greenhouse gases and uses 50 percent less non-renewable energy than traditional polymers. Using Ingeo in 100,000 plastic food containers could save non-renewable energy equal to 19 barrels of oil or 775 gallons of gasoline.

Additionally, the company has obtained numerous certifications from worldwide agriculture and sustainability organizations verifying the sustainability of its process.

The biobased materials industry now is at a crossroads, according to Mike Bassett, NatureWorks’ production manager in Blair.

“This industry has experienced tremendous technology development over the past decade especially in the U.S.,” Bassett said. “However, with cheaper feedstock and production costs, emerging countries are luring companies like NatureWorks to invest there.”

Bio Nebraska can help by urging federal legislators to enact policies, such as a short-term production tax credit, to create an environment so the fledgling industry can compete with its more well-established competitors, Bassett said. “Our legislators must send a strong message to the industry that the U.S. is serious about wanting to incubate and expand this industry here.”

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