The Belgian company Futerro has announced its intention to build a polylactic acid (PLA) production unit in the industrial zone of Port-Jérôme, in Normandy. Defined as “fully integrated” by the company, this site would include a lactic acid production unit – building-block PLA – from raw materials of agricultural origin (corn and wheat, in particular), a unit for converting lactic acid into PLA and a unit for recycling this polymer widely used as a packaging material. With this establishment, Futerro would acquire a second unit, after that of Bengbu (Chine) which has a capacity of 30,000 t/year and which was commissioned in 2021. The future Normandy unit, although Futerro is currently in negotiations with the Caux-Seine conurbation for the acquisition of a field, should have a production capacity of 75,000 tons per year of PLA and would allow the creation of 250 direct jobs and 900 indirect jobs. “We have considered many sites for this first European unit (because integrated, editor’s note). We very much appreciated the way in which the local authorities and elected officials helped us to study the implementation of our project in the port area of Port Jérôme”, explained Frédéric Van Gansberghe, CEO of Futerro. This project, aimed at recovering agricultural by-products using green energy, is part of the European Green Deal policy, the development of the circular economy and the French government’s decarbonization strategy. Founded in 2007, Futerro was originally a 50/50 joint venture between Total Petrochemicals and biotech company Galactic. A demonstration unit with a capacity of 1,500 t/year was launched in 2010, in Belgium. But the technology did not meet the expectations of the oil giant, Total withdrew from the joint venture by selling its shares to Galactic. It was Corbion’s technology that convinced Total in 2016, and led to the creation of the 50/50 joint venture between Total and Corbion, Total Corbion PLA.
An increasingly attractive market
Sluggish in its infancy, the PLA market continues to develop. It is now Futerro who wants to dig his place behind the giants of the sector, NatureWorks and Total Corbion PLA, and more recently, the Korean chemist LG Chem who announced its entry into the sector in August 2022. NatureWorks, in addition to being the pioneer in the field thanks to its Ingeo technology, is the world’s leading producer with a total production capacity of 150,000 t/year of PLA. Volume to which 75,000 t/year should be added, from 2024, thanks to the construction of a unit in Thailand. It is moreover in this country that Total Corbion PLA chose to build its first unit, a capacity of 75,000 t/year of PLA, already in operation. But the French also chose France for the construction of a unit of PLA with a capacity of 100,000 t/year, at Grandpuits (Seine-et-Marne), whose commissioning is also scheduled for 2024. As for LG Chem, it chose Decatur in Illinois (United States) in order to benefit from the strong corn production , and thus ensure a supply of raw material for the production of 75,000 t/year of PLA.
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