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Dow takes plunge into bioplastics in Brazil

In joint venture, Dow Chemical to make plastics from sugar-cane-derived ethanol and plastics to cut its use of fossil fuel feedstocks.

Dow Chemical today announced a joint venture to produce ethanol and plastics from sugar cane, a step toward sourcing renewable feedstocks for chemicals.

The joint venture between Dow Chemical and Japanese industrial conglomerate Mitsui will initially produce ethanol from sugar cane, which will then be used as a feedstock to make plastics. Financial terms of the venture were not disclosed.

The companies project to start construction of the operation, which they say will be the largest facility for making biopolymers from ethanol in the world, in the third quarter this year. Dow Chemical expects to make plastic replacements for flexible packaging and the medical market, it said.

The move is part of Dow Chemical's efforts to diversify its feedstocks from dependence on fossil fuels and to meet its long-term corporate sustainability goals, according to the company.

Although many companies have been formed to make fuels from plants, the specialty chemicals business has emerged as one of the first uses of many biorefining techniques.

Amyris, for example, earlier this year launched a venture in Brazil to make a chemical used in the production of lubricants and cosmetic products. More money is spent on fuels than industrial chemicals but producers can often sell product for higher prices.

Dow Chemical, which has been in Brazil for 50 years, told Reuters that the plant will have a capacity of producing 240,000 cubic meters of ethanol per year but did not set a date for the start of operations.