Braskem, the largest petrochemical company in Latin America, and Novozymes, the world’s leading producer of industrial enzymes, today announced a research partnership to develop large-scale production of polypropylene from sugarcane.

“Braskem was the first company in the world to produce a 100% certified green polypropylene on an experimental basis. The partnership with Novozymes will further boost Braskem’s technology development and be a key step in the company's path to consolidate its worldwide leadership in green polymers, all leveraged by Brazil’s competitive advantages within renewable resources,” says Bernardo Gradin, CEO of Braskem.

Sugar is the new oil

Polypropylene is a plastic used in a wide range of everyday products, from food containers, drinking straws, and water bottles to washing machines, furniture, and car bumpers. It is the second most widely used thermoplastic with a global consumption in 2008 of 44 million metric tons. The market is estimated to be USD 66 billion, with an annual growth rate of 4%.

Today, polypropylene is primarily derived from oil, but Braskem and Novozymes will develop a green alternative based on Novozymes’ core fermentation technology and Braskem’s expertise in chemical technology and thermoplastics. Initial development will run for at least five years.

“We live in a world where oil is limited and expensive, and the chemical industry is looking for alternatives to its petroleum-based products. Novozymes’ partnership with Braskem is a move toward a green, bio-based economy, in which sugar will be the new oil,” says Steen Riisgaard, CEO of Novozymes.

Both companies have ongoing interests in a bio-based economy: Braskem is currently building a 200,000-tons-per-year green polyethylene plant in Brazil with ethanol from sugarcane as the raw material. Novozymes is producing enzymes to turn agricultural waste into advanced biofuels and has partnered to convert renewable raw materials into acrylic acid.