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Innovating Sustainable Materials

Cardboard and Starch

innovating-sustainable-materials-photo-2.jpg?mtime=20200603041734#asset:11527Cardboard recycling is already a regular practice around the world; however, the material is not everlasting. During the recycling process, cardboard material, which consists of used, short fibers, loses strength. Researchers at ADM have developed an innovative way to extend the life of those fibers. ADM’s naturally-sourced specialty starches work by changing the physical chemistry in the cardboard-making process. When added to recycled material, our positively-charged, or “cationic,” starches attract the negatively-charged recycled fibers, strengthening their bond. This improves the durability and strength of the cardboard, increasing the number of times the material may be recycled. Adding ADM’s specialty starches also improves drainage and pressing in papermaking, which improves wastewater quality.

“For every ton of recycled cardboard, you will save 15 to 20 trees,” said Baljit Ghotra, ADM vice president of food research. “That’s why it makes sense to recycle, and to recycle more often. By adding ADM starch made from corn, we’re able to extend the life of a typical cardboard box.” In the U.S., over 90% of all products are shipped in cardboard boxes, which is about 400 billion square feet of cardboard. More than half of the cardboard collected is recycled to make new cardboard boxes. And every pound recycled adds up. By recycling one ton of cardboard, it frees up nine cubic yards of landfill space. Read more.


innovating-sustainable-materials-photo-3.jpg?mtime=20200617073131#asset:11944In Decatur, Illinois, ADM colleagues at a pilot facility work to produce a monomer called furan dicarboxylic methyl ester (FDME), which is a molecule derived from corn fructose that can help lightweight bottles and enhance their barrier properties, thus extending the shelf-life of products. By using ADM’s FDME, polyester producers will be able to manufacture a polymer called polyethylene furandicarboxylate (PEF), a novel polyester. PEF can be 100-percent renewable when biobased monoethylene glycol is used as co-monomer and recyclable polymer that—when used to make bottles and other beverage packages—substantially improves gas-barrier properties compared to other polyesters. PEF can be blended with existing PET plastic to help improve performance while using less plastic overall, a concept known as lightweighting. In combination with package-design improvements, this approach can reduce the amount of material consumed, and reduce costs of shipping and delivering food and beverage products.

In 2019, ADM and LG Chem, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of acrylic acid, announced a collaboration to jointly develop economically viable commercial production of a 100% biobased acrylic acid using ingredients from ADM corn processing. Although there is growing industry demand for products developed from renewable materials, acrylic acid is currently produced almost exclusively from petrochemicals. Acrylic acid is a foundational element required in the manufacture of superabsorbent polymers (SAP) used in a range of hygiene products, including diapers. To support production, LG Chem plans to review the construction of a bio-SAP production plant in North America, and to explore additional bio plastic business opportunities.