Ineos is set to become one of the first companies to produce polyvinyl chloride from a biobased raw material. Not everyone thinks it’s a good idea.
The biobased feedstock Ineos has chosen is tall oil, a byproduct of pulping coniferous trees. PVC is usually made by combining chlorine with ethylene obtained from fossil fuel.
Ineos will substitute some tall oil for fossil-derived naphtha to produce ethylene in one of its crackers in Cologne, Germany. The firm has an agreement to source the tall oil from the Finnish paper firm UPM. The two crackers have a combined annual output of 1.3 million metric tons (t) of ethylene, which Ineos converts into more than 4 million t of PVC, polyethylene, and other products. Ineos isn’t saying how much of that output will be based on tall oil.
Ineos is branding its bio-PVC as Biovyn. It is set for use in products including food packaging, medical apparatuses, and pipes. Products made using tall oil will have the same properties as those made using fossil-based feedstock, the company says.
Switching from fossil fuel to a biomaterial will significantly reduce the climate change impact of Ineos’s products and supports a circular approach to production, according to Ineos. In a statement, UPM’s head of sustainability, Maiju Helin, describes the move as “a great step forward for the bioeconomy.”
But environmental groups question the benefits of bio-PVC. “PVC will still have the same problems, whether it is fossil-based or biobased, including issues with recycling,” says Jonatan Kleimark, senior chemical advisor for ChemSec, a Swedish organization promoting sustainable chemicals. “And it will still require stabilizers and plasticizers, and that will be a problem.”
Since bio-PVC will still be more than 60% chlorine by weight, using biobased ethylene will be less effective than for other plastics, Kleimark adds.