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Distillers grains could end up in plastics if biocomposite facility is built

By Holly Jessen | May 18, 2011

SOURCE: Ethanol

Distillers grains as a component in plastics? You bet, if two Nebraska companies achieve their goals.

It will start by building a manufacturing facility, Laurel BioComposite LLC, in Laurel, Neb. Major investors include Kearney Area Ag Producers Alliance (KAAPA) members acting through the newly created KAAPA Investments LLC. Through private investment offerings, about $8 million in equity has been raised for the $18.7 million project. “There’s ongoing efforts to secure the rest,” said Marge Lauer, executive director of KAAPA Cooperative and a board member of KAAPA Investments.

Although the company hasn’t announced a date for groundbreaking, it’s anticipated that the first DG resin powder will be produced in 2012. Later on, the product will be shipped as pellets. In all, the plant will produce about 100 million pounds of plastic resin additive annually.

Laurel BioComposite won’t create plastics, but rather process DGs with high pressure steam to create a plastic enhancer. “With certain set processing parameters, there’s actually a molecular change that occurs to the material that creates characteristics of a polymer,” Lauer told EPM.

The LignoMAXX product created at the Laurel BioComposite plant will be sold to buyers that will blend it with other resins and materials. The end product could include items such as shipping pallets, garden containers, agriculture containers, composite fencing/decking or automotive parts, to name a few. “We have had extensive trialing done by the two largest plastic manufacturers in the United States, with excellent results,” she said.

Laurel is located within 45 miles of three ethanol plants which produce a total of 345 million pounds of DGs. Of that, the BioComposite facility will need only 40 million pounds yearly. Should the price of DGs increase, the conversion process can be used to produce LignoMAXX out of other biomass, such as corn stover, wheat straw, lawn clippings or more.

KAAPA Cooperative, which operates KAAPA Ethanol LLC , a 60 MMgy ethanol plant in Minden,  Neb., began establishing a relationship with start-up company Laurel BioComposite in 2008. In April 2009, KAAPA created KAAPA Investments and in September 2009, reached the agreement with Laurel BioComposite that KAAPA would secure investment funds from its members in exchange for a sizable, but not majority, share of the company.

Laurel BioComposite has a licensing agreement with LignoTech, the New Zealand-based patent holder, to use the technology to produce up to 540 million pounds annually from U.S. plants. Once the first plant proves the process, the goal is to construct similar plants at other locations. “We would probably start the actual planning nearly immediately,” Lauer said.

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