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Biobased Chemicals

DuPont biomaterial business emerges as the new firm Covation

Now part of China’s Huafon Group, company seeks to expand in biobased products

by Michael McCoy
June 2, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 20


A polyester fiber plant.
Credit: Covation Biomaterials
Covation Biomaterials makes Sorona fiber at this facility in Kinston, North Carolina.

In October 2020, DuPont announced that it had signed a deal to sell its biomaterial business to an undisclosed buyer for $240 million. Now, more than 18 months later, the deal has closed, and the buyer has finally been revealed as Huafon Group, a Chinese firm that is one of the world’s largest producers of spandex fiber.

The former DuPont business has a new name, Covation Biomaterials, and a new CEO, longtime DuPont executive Michael Saltzberg. He says Huafon is going to pursue the growth projects that DuPont decided against after a strategy change in 2016.

Covation’s main operations are a 50% share in a biobased propanediol plant in Loudon, Tennessee, and a Kinston, North Carolina, facility that produces Sorona, a high-end polyester fiber made from propanediol and purified terephthalic acid (PTA). Sales are between $250 million and $300 million per year, according to Saltzberg.

Huafon is the “perfect partner” for Covation, Saltzberg says. It is already a large user of propanediol as a polyurethane raw material and Sorona for its microfiber business. Moreover, he adds, Huafon has a strong ambition in sustainable materials. “They are interested in investing in us and growing biobased materials as part of their portfolio.”

In addition to propanediol and Sorona, that growth can come from two newer biobased products that DuPont developed but then shelved. One is tetrahydrofuran (THF), a spandex raw material that Covation wants to make from corncob-derived furfural. The other is furan dicarboxylic methyl ester (FDME), an alternative to PTA as a polyester raw material.

The THF process has been fully pilot tested in China and is ready to be commercialized, and FDME is not far behind, Saltzberg says.

He says the former DuPont employees now at Covation are eager to work with Huafon to harness the business’s full potential. “We’ve been chomping at the bit since 2015 but were held back a little bit,” he says. “Everybody wants to become part of this world-leading biomaterials business.”



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