Cobs to Spandex
PTMEG (Poly Tetra Methylene Ether Glycol) or polytetrahydrofuran is a polymer, which is used for the manufacture of (1) Spandex fibre (e.g. Lycra® - Invista) and (2) polyurethanes . Although it is currently made from crude-oil derived chemicals, the synthesis of its green equivalent starts with furfural furan THF PTMEG.
Major PTMEG Uses
1 Spandex is a synthetic fiber (polyurethane-polyurea copolymer) known for its exceptional elasticity. It is strong, but less durable than its major non-synthetic competitor, natural latex . The largest consumers of spandex is China, which has in excess of 500,000 tpa production capacity. For years the annual growth rate has been between 2% and 5.5% and spandex trades in the order of US$900/t - US$1,000/t.
2 Polyurethanes: PTMEG is a polyol in formulations for rigid and flexible polyurethanes, which go into industries, such as automotive, packaging and furniture. They are used e.g. as foams, coatings, adhesives, sealant etc. There is a growing demand for green polyols. Some of them are made e.g. from maize or soya. Global markets  for green or bio-polyols are predicted to exceed 1 million tpa by 2018 at an estimated market worth of US$3bn.
Converting furfural into polyurethanes (and other polymers) is an effective form of carbon sequestration!
Commercial furfural production started in 1922 and many of the fundamental research work was already done in the 1940-1950s, when the crude-oil based hydrocarbon revolutions almost "killed" the furfural industry. Little R&D has since been undertaken and that is why furfural is the Sleeping Beauty of all the bio-renewable chemicals, bioplastics and polymers. One day , instead from crude-oil, skin-hugging outfits, swimwear, etc. will be made from clean, green and biorenewable furfural.
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