A bio-resin is a resin that derives some or all of its monomers from biological sources – mainly corn and soybeans (the two leading U.S. crops by far), but also from sugar cane, potatoes, sugar beets, whey and algae.

“As countries and companies aim to reduce their dependence on petroleum, composites firms offering bio-based resins will be positioned for growth,” says Dr. Alejandrina Campanella, bio-composites platform leader at Dixie Chemical Inc., a global supplier of specialty chemicals that’s committed to sustainability. “Bio-based resins can expand existing composite markets and open the doors of new markets to composites.”

Bio-resins have substantial appeal, agrees John McAlvin, R&D manager at AOC, a Collierville, Tenn.-based resins manufacturer that has sold more than 20 million pounds of bio-based resin. “The chemical industry for many years has been reliant solely on petro-based raw materials – crude and natural gas,” he says. “Now, with the evolution of the chemical industry, many of the same building blocks and materials you can use to make polymers are available from rapidly renewable resources.”

In addition to reducing overall dependence on petrochemicals, bio-resins enable organizations that use them to promote “greener” products that have a more favorable lifecycle. The increased emphasis on lifecycle analysis has led many thermoset resin manufacturers to develop full-fledged bio-resin product lines: Ashland’s Envirez (with bio content ranging from 13 to 22 percent), AOC’s EcoTek Green Technologies, Reichhold’s ENVIROLITE and others.

These firms are carrying the torch with a cohesive message: Bio-resins offer comparable mechanicals to petro-based resins, plus they have the perk of environmental friendliness and the potential compliance with initiatives such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s BioPreferred program (which helps firms promote bio-based products through a distinct label).

“More than anything, we want to give consumers eco-friendly options without asking them to accept performance trade-offs,” says Michael Gromacki, Dixie Chemical’s vice president of operations and sustainability, and co-chair of the Bio-composites Committee of ACMA’s Green Composites Council.

“There’s a big movement in general toward transparency – talking about your material ingredients, proving your reduction of higher-toxicity components and supporting customers in their green programs,” says Bob Moffit, Ashland’s senior product manager. “While the bio-resin market hasn’t taken off yet, there’s no doubt that it’s active and important.”

Construction Is Main Driver

The commercial bio-based resin market has expanded since Ashland first introduced its Envirez line a decade ago, when it provided John Deere with a resin based on soy oil and corn-based ethanol for a tractor panel.