Chemical giant BASF has begun commercial production of polytetrahydrofuran (polyTHF) derived entirely from biomass feedstocks. The process hinges on a microbial fermentation of sugars to produce 1,4-butanediol (BDO), which is then purified and polymerised.
Genetically engineered bacteria
BASF has licensed the BDO fermentation process from biotech specialist Genomatica, which genetically engineered the bacteria to produce and excrete BDO in sufficient quantity and purity.
PolyTHF is primarily used as a component in polyester and polyurethane materials.
“The bio-based PolyTHF 1000 is identical in quality to the petrochemical-based product.” To say it is Andrej Brejc, director Renewable Diols from BASF’s Intermediates division (sales to third parties of about 2.8 billion euro in 2014), which has made bio-based Polytetrahydrofuran 1000 (PolyTHF® 1000) available for the first time. The chemical company headquartered in Ludwigshafen is now providing this intermediate to selected partners for testing various applications in a large scale.
Opportunity for renewable raw materials
According to Brejc, “the opportunity to expand the range of products and applications made from renewable raw materials allows us and our partners to further explore the long-term market acceptance of this innovative technology.”
BASF is the world’s leading provider of PolyTHF, which is primarily used to make elastic spandex fibers for a large variety of textiles, including underwear, outerwear, sportswear and swimsuits. PolyTHF 1000 is mainly applied as a chemical building block for thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), which is used to make for example parts of ski boots and skates, shoe soles and instrument panel skin for automotive applications as well as hoses, films and cable sheathing.
It is also used as a component of thermoplastic polyetheresters and polyetheramides. Other applications include cast elastomers, which are used, for example, for the production of wheels for skateboards and inline skates.