Sweet deal

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Dow and Crystalsev plan to build a plant to manufacture polyethylene from sugar cane.

The Dow Chemical Company and Crystalsev, one of Brazil's largest ethanol players, have announced plans to build a plant to manufacture polyethylene from sugar cane.

Under the terms of a memorandum of understanding between the two, Dow and Crystalsev will form a joint venture in Brazil to design and build the facility, which is expected to start production in 2011 and boast a capacity of 350,000 tonnes.

The new facility will use ethanol derived from sugar cane, an annually renewable resource, to produce ethylene - the raw material required to make polyethylene, the world's most widely-used plastic. Ethylene is traditionally produced using either naphtha or natural gas liquids, both of which are petroleum products. It is estimated that the new process will produce significantly less CO2 compared to the traditional polyethylene manufacturing process.

The companies have already begun conducting a feasibility study to assess various aspects of the project, including engineering design, location, infrastructure needs, supply chain logistics, energy and economics. The study, which is expected to take one year, will also look at the possibility of receiving approval for the project and the process as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The CDM was developed by the United Nations to help companies manage their carbon credits from emerging market projects.

The areas being considered as potential sites for the new facility are currently being used for low-density cattle grazing and are not near any rain forests. Both companies have underscored their commitment to ensuring that the plant is located in a sustainable environment.

The new facility will use Dow's proprietary ‘Solution’ technology to manufacture DOWLEXT polyethylene resins - a linear low density polyethylene. The material is used in a range of different applications, including pipes, films, membranes, and food and specialty packaging.

The joint venture's product will be identical to the DOWLEXT polyethylene resins manufactured at other Dow facilities. The advantage of this material versus most renewable resource-based plastics is that customers will be using a drop-in replacement made with a renewable resource not a different polymer. Also, like the traditional PE product, the sugar cane-based polyethylene would be fully recyclable.