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Cargill Breaks Ground for Soy-Plastics Plant in Chicago

CHICAGO, Illinois, July 9, 2008 (ENS) – Food and agricultural giant Cargill Tuesday broke ground on a $22 million factory in Chicago to produce plant-based plastics. These polyols can replace petroleum-based chemicals usually used in polyurethane products, such as flexible foam cushioning for furniture, bedding and automotive products.

The privately held, $71 billion Minneapolis-based company says when the new plant comes online in November it will produce Cargill’s BiOH™ brand soybean-based polyols.

“Only two years ago we committed to building a world-class renewable polyols business and to bring a more responsible option to the industry,” said Yusuf Wazirzada, business unit leader for Cargill Biobased Polyurethanes. “We are rapidly delivering on that promise, first by opening a world-class research facility and now by constructing a world-scale manufacturing plant.”

Since going commercial with BiOH polyols in 2005, Cargill has been producing the soy-plastic in smaller quantities. The new manufacturing plant in Chicago will provide a much larger supply of BiOH polyols as a raw material to customers in North America and Europe.

The biobased product’s success required expanding production capabilities at a Cargill site in Brazil to serve the company’s fast-growing Latin American customer base. From September 2007 BiOH polyols have been made at one of Cargill’s existing vegetable oil processing sites in Sao Paulo state.

“We are enthusiastic about providing Latin American foam manufacturers the ability to purchase biobased polyols from a Latin American manufacturing facility,” said Etore Silva, manager of the Cargill plant located in the city of Mairinque.

The Amazon rainforest is cleared for
soya cultivation in the municipality
of Belterra in State of Para, Brazil.
This is close to the port at Santarem,
where Cargill has a soya export
facility. (Photo by Leonardo Freitas)

Greenpeace and other environmental groups have objected to Cargill’s soy-based business in Brazil, saying that the Amazon rainforest should not be converted to agricultural production. One of the last large rainforests in the world, the Amazon supports the survival of a wide variety of unique plants and animals and contributes to the stability of the global climate.

Rising international demand for soya has led many farmers to drive deforestation to make way for soya cultivation, Greenpeace says. In 2006, the campaign group demonstrated against Cargill and published “Eating up the Amazon,” a report on its investigation into the links between soya in the supply chains of international food companies and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

This report prompted a two-year moratorium from July 2006 on trade in soya grown on newly deforested land.

But Greenpeace says two years have not been long enough to establish permanent solutions to halt deforestation related to soya farming, so the group lobbied for an extension.

The Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries, or Abiove, which represents soya traders, has recently been under pressure from producers who wanted to weaken the moratorium by allowing soya plantations in areas not permitted under the existing agreement, Greenpeace claims.

Despite the pressure, in a press conference held in Brasilia in June, Abiove confirmed that it will back the moratorium for another year.

“Abiove’s decision shows that it is possible for a leading agri-business company to ensure food production without destroying forests,” said Paulo Adario, Greenpeace Amazon campaign coordinator.

Brazilian Environment Minister Carlos Minc told reporters, “The moratorium is a successful initiative by civil society and the soya industry. The federal government is entering the process now and is committed to register and license all rural properties in the Amazon biome. Inspired by the success of this initiative, the Brazilian government is negotiating similar approaches with the timber and beef industries.”

Now Amazon soya production will be the basis not only for food, but also for Cargill’s new high-volume Chicago polyol plant.

Cargill says it shares Greenpeace’s Amazon conservation goals, but does not agree with the campaign group’s means to achieve them.

Cargill contends that soy occupies less than one percent of the land in the Amazon biome, and most of that soy is grown on the fringes of the Amazon biome in the transitional area between the Cerrado and the forest.

“Despite Greenpeace’s assertions that there should be no agricultural production within certain lines on a map, not all lands within those lines are equally valuable from an environmental standpoint,” the company said in a 2006 statement. “Agricultural production is appropriate in some areas.”

“In forested areas, producers must set aside 80 percent of their landholdings to be allowed to cultivate the remaining 20 percent,” Cargill said. “The Brazilian Forest Code also requires landholders to maintain properly vegetated riparian corridors as areas of permanent protection.”

“BiOH polyols provide a responsible choice in raw materials for furniture cushioning, bedding foams, automotive seats, and building insulation,” Cargill said on Tuesday.

A preliminary life cycle analysis indicates that manufacturing BiOH polyols results in 36 percent less global warming emissions and requires 61 percent less non-renewable energy than traditional petroleum-based polyols, the company said.

Because solar energy is used to grow the soybeans, Cargill says, “For every one million pounds of BiOH polyols that replace petroleum polyols, 2,200 barrels of crude oil are saved.”

Businesses currently using this product in their foam cushioning include furniture companies such as Lane, Klaussner, LEE Industries, Norwalk, Bauhaus, and Precedent, sold through leading retailers such as Crate & Barrel, Macys and Norwalk-The Furniture Idea. Eco Platinum Plus™ carpet cushion sold through Home Depot is made with BiOH polyols.

In the automotive sector, BiOH materials will be in the seats of the 2009 Ford Escape.

“Given that the global polyurethane market for polyols is greater than 10 billion pounds,” Cargill said Tuesday, “BiOH polyols can have a significant impact on reducing crude oil consumption while using only a small percentage of global vegetable oil stocks.”

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