NatureWorks, Minnetonka, Minn., has entered into a development agreement with Netherlands-based Avantium to combine technologies on plant-based polymers used in packaging, including for fresh produce.

NatureWorks manufactures what it calls Ingeo biopolymer, which takes corn-based sugar, and breaks it down into lactic acids used to form biopolymers, a form of plastic.

Steve Davies, director of communications and public affairs for NatureWorks, said his company is especially interested in Avantium’s line of what it calls Furanics.

Davies said Avantium takes plant sugars and makes a range of building blocks that can be used to make polyesters, polyamides and polyurethanes. In its partnership with Avantium, NatureWorks is looking specifically at a building block called furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA), which is similar to the terephthalic acid used in PETE plastics.“That’s why this is a great relationship,” Davies said. “It takes two different products with different kinds of properties.”

NatureWorks believes Furanics hold promise because of the potential efficiencies in production, wide availability of sources for biomass — Avantium aims to use feedstock — and the versatility and performance of end products, everything from packaging to textiles.

“Over the next year, we plan to get small quantities and test them in the lab,” Davies said. “Once we’ve made the end products and tested them, then we can look at costs and then how to advertise and market it.

“We’re probably looking at 3-5 years before it’s available on a mass scale.”

Once NatureWorks has its plan in place, it’ll be able to manufacture packaging at its plant in Blair, Neb., where it has recently doubled its plant capacity.