First to Market

Specialty chemical firm to introduce world’s first biobased EPDM rubber
By Bryan Sims | October 24, 2011

Lanxess is strengthening its commitment to produce premium synthetic rubbers from biobased inputs. The German specialty chemical company aims to produce ethylene-propylene-diene monomer (EPDM) from biobased ethylene by the end of the year, which would make it the first form of biomased EPDM rubber in the world.

Traditionally, EPDM is produced using petroleum-based raw materials such as ethylene and propylene. Alternatively, Lanxess plans to use ethylene derived from sugarcane. This biobased form of ethylene is produced by dehydrating ethanol from sugarcane. Brazilian petrochemical company Braskem SA will supply Lanxess the biobased ethylene via pipeline from its 200,000-ton-per-year ethanol plant in Triunfo, Brazil, to Lanxess’ existing EPDM production facility also located in Triunfo.
“Lanxess’ ongoing search for alternatives to fossil fuels underlines its commitment to reducing carbon dioxide emissions through sustainable production,” says Guenther Weymans, head of Lanxess’ technical rubber products business unit. “We are very excited that our Brazilian plant will be the pioneer for biobased EPDM.”

Lanxess’ facility in Triunfo produces 40,000 metric tons of regular petroleum-based EPDM rubber annually and it’s expected that the company’s first batches of biobased EPDM will amount to several hundred metric tons. The company’s other EPDM production sites are based in Geleen, Netherlands; Marl, Germany; and Orange, Texas. According to Lanxess, all of its EPDM grades will be sold in the future under the brand name Keltan with its biobased grades marketed under the brand name Keltan Eco.

“Lanxess will contribute to broaden its portfolio of renewable chemicals’ clients,” says Marcelo Nunes, Braskem’s renewable chemicals director. “This agreement will bring the benefits of green ethylene to other important applications and markets. Lanxess has extensive automotive experience and an excellent reputation in this market, which makes it an ideal partner.”
Although used predominantly for rubber-based components in the automotive industry, EPDM is also used in the plastics modification, cable and wire, construction and oil additives industries. Its beneficial properties include low density, a resistance to heat, oxidation, chemicals and weathering as well as solid electrical insulation properties.

In addition to including biobased forms of EPDM, Lanxess intends to use renewable sources for the production of butyl rubber, a material predominantly used in the tire industry. Together with Colorado-based Gevo Inc., Lanxess is developing isobutene, a key raw material needed in the manufacture of butyl rubber, derived from Gevo’s corn-based isobutanol. 

—Bryan Sims