Sarnia to play role in developing sustainable, renewable plastic

June 16, 2017 – Paul Morden, The Observer – Origin Materials, a California bio-chemical company expected to build a commercial-scale demonstration plant in Sarnia, has well-known partners in the bottled water business eager to develop 100-per-cent bio-based plastic containers.

Danone and Nestle Waters announced earlier this year they had formed the NaturALL Bottle Alliance with Origin Materials, a start-up company in Sacramento expected to build and begin operating a bio-chemical manufacturing site in Sarnia by late 2018.

The partnership with the large international bottled water companies aims to develop and launch a PET plastic bottle made from 100 per cent sustainable and renewable bio-based material, according to a news release.

Cardboard, sawdust and wood chips are among raw materials Original Materials, a company formed in 2008, uses to make chemicals for the manufacturing of polymers and other products.

Based in Sacramento, the company has offices in Midland, Mich., New York and Philadelphia, said CEO and co-founder John Bissell.

“And, pretty soon we’re going to have one in Sarnia,” he added.

The Sarnia plant was announced this week, along with an investment in Origin Materials by Bioindustrial Innovation Canada, a government-funded agency based in Sarnia. The Sarnia-based agency set up to support the commercial development of sustainable and bio-based technology isn’t saying how much it has invested in the company.

“We’ve raised about $80 million (US) in total so far, to do the development work for our technology and now to build this pioneer plant,” Bissell said.

He wouldn’t say what the Sarnia facility will cost to build, or how many workers it will employ once it’s operating.

Sandy Marshall, executive director of Bioindustrial Innovation Canada, has said Origin Material’s plant is expected to be built in one of Sarnia’s industrial parks.

“We looked around at a variety of different sites and we found Sarnia fit a lot of our needs,” Bissell said.

Those needs include infrastructure, expertise and experience found in Sarnia, a community that is home to several refineries and chemical manufacturing sites.

“We’re building there because it seems like it has all the skills and talents and things that are required for us to be successful with our project,” Bissell said.

Company officials visited Sarnia several times before this week’s announcement.

“I think it’s a great spot,” Bissell said.

“It feels like how a really skilled and qualified industrial town should feel.”

Officials in Sarnia-Lambton have been working in recent years to promote the community as a site for bio-chemistry companies. Montreal-based BioAmber opened a $141-million plant in Sarnia in 2015 where it makes the building-block chemical succinic acid from corn syrup.

Comet Biorefining, a company originally based in London, is planning to build a plant in Sarnia to turn corn and wheat stalks into sugar for industrial customers.

Origin Materials has a pilot plant in Sacramento where it has already produced samples of bio-based PET plastic.

“It’s an entirely chemical process, there’s no fermentation or micro-organisms or things like that involved,” Bissell said.

The company is calling the proposed Sarnia facility a “pioneer” plant.

“It’s big enough to provide commercial quantities of material to our customers,” Bissell said.

“It’s big enough it demonstrates commercial operation, it feels and walks and talks like a commercial-scale plant.”

But, the company expects to build larger manufacturing sites in the future, Bissell said.

“This is a natural stepping-stone plant for us,” he said.

The Sarnia plant is expected to allow the company to demonstrate its technology using a variety of raw materials.

The alliance said its research and development will focus initially on cardboard, sawdust and wood chips, but other biomass materials, such as rice hulls, straw and agricultural residue could be explored.

“The technology represents a scientific breakthrough for the sector, and the alliance aims to make it available to the entire food and beverage industry,” the new release said.

“We believe it’s possible to replace traditional fossil materials with bio-based packaging materials,” Frederic Jouin, head of research and development for plastic materials at Danone, said in the release.

“By teaming up and bringing together our complementary expertise and resources, the alliance can move faster in developing 100 per cent renewable and recyclable PET plastic at commercial scale,” Jouin said.

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