A new polymer that can be spun into apparel-grade textile fibres, yet incorporates a critical ingredient derived from corn rather than petroleum, has been announced by DuPont.

The polymer, called Sorona, is the first product to be developed by the company's Bio-Based Materials business and has been pioneered in conjunction with Tate & Lyle. 

The two companies teamed up to successfully manufacture a critical ingredient for the newest polymer that uses a fermentation process based on corn sugar, a renewable resource. Before this development, the substance could only be produced from petrochemicals.

The chemical, PDO - also known as 1,3 propanediol - was produced by DuPont and Tate & Lyle scientists at a pilot plant located at Tate & Lyle's Decatur, Ill., facility. Tate & Lyle, a major corn-based products company with expertise in fermentation processes, is one of two DuPont development partners in the effort. The other is Genencor International, which is developing the innovative biocatalyst for the process at its Palo Alto, Calif., research centre.

PDO is a key ingredient in the manufacture of DuPont Sorona 3GT polymer. Fabrics made with Sorona fibre are said to be soft to the touch, exhibit excellent stretch and recovery characteristics, can be dyed readily and feature the easy care attributes of polyester.

"We are extremely pleased with this development because it offers solid proof that biotechnology can and will deliver far-reaching, transformative benefits in a wide variety of areas," said Ellen J. Kullman, DuPont group vice president and general manager of DuPont Bio-Based Materials. "Sorona is the newest polymer platform from DuPont and the first in what we believe will be a family of bio-based products with exciting consumer and industrial applications."

DuPont recently started up a new continuous polymerisation plant at Kinston, NC, for the manufacture of Sorona polymer. The PDO used in that process is made for DuPont from petrochemical feedstocks by Degussa, a German company. The new Kinston plant has the capability to switch to corn-based PDO once process economics and market demand justify the change.