FMCG Manufacturers Are Turning Greener

October 15, 2010. Organic compounds synthesized out of renewable raw materials such as vegetable oils, starch, sugar and cellulose have been the focus of much research within the chemicals industry since the 1990’s. Green chemicals, which today include biopolymers, lubricants and surfactants as well as specialty and platform chemicals, are finding their way into cosmetics, toiletries, food additives and product packaging. Which new green applications have caught the attention of the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry?

The European Union has several laws and tax relief benefits to promote the use of biofuels and has set a target of 10% share for renewable fuels by 2020. The US has even higher targets within shorter timelines. At the same time, rigorous laws have been implemented in various geographies. An example would be California’s laws for the use of chemicals in consumer products and packaging.

The increase in the demand and supply of biofuels will mean that more raw materials for green chemicals will eventually be available.

Bio-refineries that manufacture biofuels out of starch, vegetable oil, wood or even waste already exist in the US, Brazil, Singapore and Germany. Such refineries are not only capable of producing biodiesel, ethanol and biogas but also valuable side products that can be used as ingredients for green chemicals.

FMCG manufacturers have been adopting green chemicals in a number of areas, particularly for their packaging solutions.

Ongoing research to improve the technical characteristics of bioplastics means that renewable plastics may even match traditional plastics’ superior ability to withstand water, grease and gas one day. Renewable plastics are already taking over traditional plastics in disposable plates, cups, cutlery and bags. The combinations of various grades of plastic, such as Polypropylene, Polyethylene, Polyethylene terephthalate and Ethylene Vinyl Alcohol are used in packaging to help prolong the shelf life of food. Thus biopolymers could be potentially used not only as standalone materials but also as components in packaging materials. The lamination and coating of paper and board is a particularly interesting market for biopolymers as the process combines the properties of paper and plastic, and the end products are biodegradable.

The areas of application with the FMCG production line will continue to grow, despite concerns about the potential conflict with food production.

Biofuels still account for the majority of renewable raw materials used in green chemicals. As such, the demand for such chemicals is simply not high enough to threaten the use of arable land for food production.

In addition, algae and forest-based resources may begin to replace food-based ingredients such as maize and corn. GM crops are another option. BASF has produced a GM starch potato named Amflora that has been tailor-made to produce pure amylopectin for industrial use. It claims that Amflora starch can make yarn stronger, paper glossier, and keep glue liquid for longer for example.

Table: Green Chemicals used in FMCG products

Product packaging “¢
Biopolymers out of polylactic acid
Adhesives and coatings out of starch
Polyester polyols out of castor oil
Cellophane out of cellulose
Chemical additives “¢
Succinic acid out of sugar or cellulose
Methyl cellulose out of wood pulp
Ethanol out of glucose
Surfactants and thickening agents out of various sources
Food additives “¢
Starch out of maize, grain
Citric acid out of maize, grain
Sitosterol out of wood pulp and vegetable oil
Pectin out of citrus fruits
Alginic acid out of algae
Body care products “¢
Vegetable oils out of sunflower seed and rapeseed
Glycerin out of palm oil for example

The packaging sector is awash with new renewable products due to consumer demand. Compounds such as Isopropylthioxanthone and some fluorochemicals have been removed from packaging in order to prevent hazardous substances from being transferred to packaged products. Other chemicals that are used in packaging, especially during dispersion, lamination, adhesion and coating are monitored so they are within safety limits.

Consumers increasingly favor safety and sustainability in the sourcing of raw materials, especially for products that come into contact with the human body or are digested. This is most prominent in mature markets such as US and Europe for applications such as body moisturizers and baby care products.

As a result, certain cosmetics manufacturers are increasingly using green chemicals instead of crude oil-based alternatives. Surfactants in detergents are also being replaced by renewable alternatives.

Cognis, for example, has increased the use of bio-based compounds and solutions in all of their care chemical products to as much as 47%, while Henkel claims that two-thirds of the formulations for its soaps, shampoos and shower gels are based on renewable materials. Other products such as glue sticks, wallpaper pastes and packaging adhesives also utilize renewable raw materials.

Swedish Tetra Pak will pilot ethanol-based high-density polyethylene in their packaging closures by 2011. Huhtamaki now offers a wide range of cups and containers that are made out of bioplastic, sold under the trade name NatureWorks® PLA.

Pulp and paper companies enter the market

Wood, forest residue and carbon-based biomass will become more popular as resources for green chemicals. Another source is the waste streams of the food, beverage and forest industries, which remain largely untapped.

Various cellulose-derived compounds such as Succinic acid, Methylcellulose and Sitosterol are already competing successfully in the chemical additives market. Nanotechnology is opening new doors in the mid-term for higher performing materials. In the long-term, the manufacture of various aromatic compounds out of lignin will become economically feasible as well.

Forest-based companies such as UPM-Kymmene, Huhtamäki and Arizona Chemicals are investing in the research of green “˜forest’ chemicals. Nanotechnology research at UPM-Kymmene aims not only to improve the papermaking process but to find novel applications for nanocellulose. Huhtamäki has launched disposable cups and various packaging out of bioplastics while Arizona Chemicals is utilizing the waste streams from the forest industry to manufacture adhesives, lubricants and chemical additives.

According to industry experts, forest-based raw materials such as cellulose and lignin offer the most potential for new innovations. These extracts are abundantly available, pose no threat to cultivation of edible plants and can be processed on a large scale. Depending partly on the location, their utilization is also generally perceived as sustainable.

Indeed, pulp and paper companies will help FMCG producers turn green in increasing numbers.

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