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Comment Processing & Handling

A new PLA process makes its commercial debut

By Gerald Ondrey |

Earlier this year, the first polylactic acid (PLA) plant based on a new polymerization process was put into service by Synbra Technology in Etten Leur, the Netherlands. The plant — capable of producing up to 5,000 ton/yr of PLA — was built by Sulzer Chemtech Ltd. (Winterthur, Switzerland; www.sulzerchemtech.com), and uses a PLA process jointly developed by Sulzer Chemtech and Purac (Gorinchem, the Netherlands; www.purac.com), a company of the Dutch CSM group. PLA is made (flowsheet) by the ring-opening polymerization of lactide — a cyclic dilactate ester, which is produced by the esterification of two lactic-acid molecules, followed by a catalytic cyclization reaction. Unlike conventional routes, the melt-based process does not require solvents, and is able to produce all different grades of PLA, with a wide range of molecular weights, in a single line, says Torsten Wintergerste, Director of PolyTechnology at Sulzer Chemtech. The continuous process also takes advantage of Sulzer Chemtech’s proprietary static-mixing technology, which reduces maintenance and the plants footprint, as well as simplifying scaleup and plant operation, he says. The new process is also able to convert stereochemically pure L- and D-lactide…
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