Polylactide (PLA) Overview
Polylactide is a commercially available, biodegradable, and environmentally friendly
biopolymer. Its raw material stems mainly from corn starch. As shown in PLA life
cycle diagram, fermentation of corn starch using microorganisms yield lactic acid.
Further reactions of lactic acid molecules link together to yield a ring shaped
molecule called lactide.
Polylactide Life Cycle
NatureWorks LLC is the first company to offer a family of 100-percent
corn-derived polymers to the world market. Its manufacturing plant located at
Blair, Nebraska, USA has the capacity to produce 140,000 metric tons of
polylactide polymer per year, which are marketed under NatureWorks® PLA
and Ingeo® fibers.
Other major producers of polylactide (PLA) around the world include Toyota in
Japan, Hycali in The Netherlands, Galactic in Belgium and several Chinese
manufacturers. Most of these manufacturers use sugar cane as the main source to
produce lactic acid through bacterial fermentation.
As shown in the life cycle of PLA, the basic building block for the polylactide
production is derived from renewable agricultural resources such as corn or
beet sugar. Bacterial fermentation of these sugars produces lactic acid, the basic
chemical needed for the synthesis of PLA. As discussed at the PLA synthesis
section, PLA can be produced by the condensation polymerization of lactic
acid, or ring opening polymerization of lactide, the dimer of lactic acid.
Commercially, the latter process is utilized to get the high molecular weight
The process of polymerization includes opening of these lactide rings and linking
tens and thousands of units together to form polylactide (PLA) polymer.
Then Polylactide resin is processed in to useful articles by using conventional
processing techniques including extrusion, injection molding, blow molding, and
fiber spinning processes.
After their intended use, polylactide derived products can be either recycled,
hydrolyzed to get lactic acid, or composted under right conditions to degrade in
to carbon dioxide and water completing the life cycle.
Biodegradable & Compostable Material
Manufacturers and Suppliers:
Compostable plastic bags, plates, utensils
and packaging products.
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