Locations -- Nebraska's Innovative Polymer Plant

Dec. 21, 2004
Cargill Dow's Blair site will process corn and other agricultural biomass into polymers for fabrics and food packaging materials.
Plant The Blair, Neb., facility designed for Cargill Dow LLC is said to be the world's first major chemical plant intended to turn corn into fabrics and food packaging materials. Encompassing more than 16 acres on the Missouri River just outside of Omaha, the site represents a nearly $750 million investment for the production of NatureWorks polylactide (PLA). Projected annual production capacity: 140,000 metric tons. Before the plant's April launch the company was producing limited quantities of PLA at a facility outside Minneapolis. The company, formed in 1997, is a joint venture of Cargill Inc. and Dow Chemical Co. Its mission: polymer production from renewable biomass. The company says raw material needs will be met by the corn grown within a 90-mile radius of the Blair plant. John Osborn, CFO, says other firms investing in Nebraska plant sites also may qualify for rebates on sales use tax, forgivable loans tied to employment practices and financial support of technical employee training programs. The company claims the resin is the first polymer to be entirely derived from a renewable resource. All the resin made at the Blair plant will come from 100% natural-based materials such as the locally grown corn. Cargill Dow expects to be able to process as much as 40,000 bushels per day. The company also is targeting other biomass (corn stalks, wheat straw, grasses and other agricultural wastes) with a $250 million research initiative. In essence the facility harvests the carbon naturally stored in simple plant sugars as a plant undergoes photosynthesis. Via fermentation and distillation, Cargill Dow is able to extract the carbon from the biomass and use it as the basic building block for commercial grade plastic and fibers. In contrast, traditional thermoplastics rely on petroleum as a base feedstock. Corporate Strategy Randy Howard, president and CEO, describes the competitive appeal of NatureWorks PLA: "People buy products based on value and performance. What we have done is expand the definition of both." He says Cargill Dow views value and performance as encompassing the product, the raw material, manufacturing methods and the product's ultimate disposal. "This is the kind of sustainable vision we are applying to our business model. Our goal is to create plastics today without compromising the earth's ability to meet the needs for tomorrow." Adds Pat Gruber, vice president and CTO: "The idea . . . is to establish a new industrial system where society can go on forever without depleting the earth's natural resources." He envisions a system that helps create a better quality of life without compromising people. Locations profiles selected siting and facility strategies by manufacturing companies. Send submissions to Senior Editor John S. McClenahen at [email protected].

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