Brazil chases green petchem goal

Brazil leads the global production of biopolymers, an industry that generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuel-based plastic manufacture. The leap to industrial-scale production of green polyethylene was made by a factory established two years ago in the Polo Petroquímico do Sul (Southern Petrochemical Hub), located in the Triunfo municipality of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, with an annual output capacity of 200,000 tons. Green plastic is a thermoplastic resin made from the country’s abundant sugarcane-derived ethanol and produced with technology developed by the Brazilian company Braskem, one of the largest petrochemical producers in the world. The next step for the company will be to build its first green polypropylene plant and launch production in 2013. Green polypropylene – which in its petrochemical version is the second most widely used thermoplastic resin in the world – will also be made from ethanol and will have much the same environmental advantages as polyethylene. According to environmentalist José Goldemberg, a professor at the Electrotechnical and Energy Institute of the University of São Paulo, green plastics are a good investment as they are a substitute for basic raw materials from the petrochemical industry, such as naphtha (benzene or petroleum ether). A consultant for organizations such as the Democracy and Sustainability Institute and ActionAid, Kishinami fears that the massive use of sugarcane for fuel or petrochemical production will favor extensive monoculture of this crop. Luiz Jacques Saldanha, an agricultural engineer and environmental activist from Rio Grande do Sul, says that “calling this process green just because its source of carbon comes from a plant is highly misleading.”

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