Mitsubishi Aims to Make MMAs from Plants

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Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. said it has begun designing a pilot factory that will use materials from plants to make what it calls sustainable methyl methacrylates – compounds that are used to make viscosity modifiers for lubricants, among other applications.

The company, which is headquartered in Tokyo, has not settled on a location but said the facility will begin operating next year. After demonstrating the technology it intends to build a commercial-scale factory that would open by 2026.

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Mitsubishi Chemical officials said the plan is part of its effort to reduce levels of greenhouse gases generated by its chemicals business. In a Feb. 16 news release it said “the group will pursue the potential of this business, work with stakeholders around the world to reduce the environmental burden of the entire supply chain and seek to actively lead the efforts to realize a circular economy.

One of a number of independent but cooperating companies doing business under the Mitsubishi brand name, Mitsubishi Chemical claims that its wholly owned Mitsubishi Chemical Methacrylates subsidiary is the world’s largest producer of methyl methacrylates. Methyl methacrylates are monomers used to make acrylic resins used in products ranging from automobile headlight covers, signboards, aquarium tanks and paints.

They are also used to make polymethacrylates used by some companies as viscosity index improvers and other lubricant viscosity modifiers.

Mitsubishi Chemical said it investigated three potential routes for making sustainable methyl methacrylates. One was to recycle them by depolymerizing acrylic resins to turn them back into methyl methacrylates. A second was to manufacture them by fermenting plant materials. The third was to use the conventional process for making methyl methacrylate but to replace normal ingredients with materials derived from plants.

The company said that the latter approach showed process and so that it is designing a pilot plant around it to demonstrate the process. A spokesman for Mitsubishi Chemical said it is considering building the pilot plant in the Asia-Pacific region and that the company’s factory in Hiroshima, Japan, is a potential site.

The world consumes 3.6 million metric tons per year of methyl methacrylate, the company said, and demand is growing line with nations’ gross domestic product.