Corn as a panacea

As peak oil really starts to hit home, the situation will place pressure on all sorts of industries – and not just in relation to fuel.

It’s sobering to learn just how many products around today have crude oil as an ingredient – from what we wear, to what we apply to our skin and hair and even what we eat, crude oil is there… particularly in anything plastic related. We’re increasingly looking towards crops like corn in order to keep fueling our plastic dependent, consumptive lifestyles.

Derived from 100% annually renewable resources such as corn, NatureWorks® polymer seems to be an incredibly versatile bioplastic. It can be used to make bottles, coated paper items (such as coffee cups), containers, jars, furnishings, bags and even clothing.

The company purchases corn sugar (dextrose) that is sourced within a 30-mile radius of Blair, NE. The fermentation process converts the sugar to lactic acid, that is then used to create the basic polymer, which is later converted to a variety of packaging and fiber applications.

NatureWorks says their polymer uses 62-68 percent fewer fossil fuel resources than traditional plastics in its manufacturing

The corn used is 2 yellow dent field corn and the company says that when at full capacity, NatureWorks LLC will use less than one half of one percent of the available U.S. corn crop. That’s still a lot of corn.

I’m envisioning much of the USA being covered in corn fields in the future as it seems to be viewed as somewhat of a panacea for any oil related issue. I’m not pooh-poohing the bioplastic applications of corn at all, I think it’s great – just flagging the ongoing related concern of diverting food crops to fuel and other products – both from a human and environmental standpoint.

Still, corn based plastics are a solid alternative, but definitely shouldn’t the only option. One of the other alternatives, probably the most important one, is for us to stop consuming so darn much.

It is encouraging though that headway is being made into more efficient processes for converting real plant waste into fuel and possibly plastics.

Corn; what an incredible plant – wear it, use it for heating, drive with it, drink it.. oh, and you can eat it too. Like soy, most of us do in huge quantities without realizing it; it finds its way into everything.