“Bio-based resins tend to win all ties,” McAlvin says. “If you have one material that’s derived from petro, and another that’s derived from rapidly renewable materials or even recycled materials, the greener product will usually win if everything else is equal. But in general, fabricators aren’t willing to pay more for bio-based resins.”

Moffit concurs, adding that green resins “aren’t that far away” in price today – about 10 percent higher than petroleum-based resins – and that their cost tends to fluctuate. Also, he says, two supply-side issues exist: (1) Unsaturated polyester resin monomers are available in production quantities only from petrochemical sources, and (2) there’s a lack of bio-based alternatives to styrene. “Those issues make the bio-resin supply chain more questionable, and if you can’t have confidence in it, people tend not to take something beyond ratings in lab testing.”

Actually, two letters that indicate a different kind of rating – PG – might eventually spark the bio-based resin market. Agriculture firm Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) has developed a process that converts soybeans into glycerol and corn into sorbitol/dextrose. From a new facility in Illinois, ADM is converting those materials into propylene glycol (PG), which is a major ingredient of bio-resins. A PG supply chain could eventually open the bio-resin market to more manufacturers and their customers.

Sidebar – Benefits of Bio-Based Resins

Dr. Alejandrina Campanella, bio-composites platform leader at Dixie Chemical Inc., a global supplier of specialty chemicals that’s committed to sustainability, says these are the benefits of bio-based resins:

  • Reduce dependence on petroleum-based products
  • Increase the use of renewable resources
  • Reduce emissions and impacts on the environment and health
  • Improve working conditions and worker safety
  • Introduce sustainable materials with comparable properties
  • Differentiate with competitive offerings

  • Open new markets throughout the supply chain
  • Aid the rural community
  • Improve the product life cycle footprint
  • Expand options for end-of-life recycling and reuse
  • Help customers adapt to local, regional and federal regulations