China Launches Campaign to Defend p-Xylene

by | May 6, 2014

plastics-factory-shutterstoChina’s state-run media has launched a campaign touting the benefits of p-xylene, a commonly used chemical that’s been the target of environmental protests in recent years.

State television has broadcast reports on p-xylene’s production in other countries and staff at state-run newspapers have published editorials defending the chemical, which is used to make polyester fibers and plastics, reports Chemical and Engineering News.

P-Xylene is used to make (PET) polyethylene terephthalate which is used in many products including soda bottles, food packaging, synthetic fibers for clothing and automotive parts.

Production of the chemical, also referred to as PX, has become increasingly controversial in China. In March, protesters clashed with police after marching against a proposed p-xylene plant in Maoming. Public protests directed at factories that make plastics pre-cursor chemicals have grown in recent years. In some cases, protesters have successfully derailed proposed p-xylene production plants, reports Foreign Policy.

The rapid growth of China’s polyester industry has driven demand for p-xylene, according to report released in February by Huidian Research. However, production capacity cannot meet demand due to a slowdown of p-xylene development in China.

There are 13 p-xylene manufacturing facilities in China, most of which are subsidiaries of Sinopec, China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), the three major state-owned oil companies, Huidian says.

University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers in June 2013 discovered a new chemical process to make p-xylene at 90 percent yield from lignocellulosic biomass, the highest yield achieved to date. The chemical industry currently produces p-xylene from more expensive petroleum, while the new process will make the same chemical from lower-cost, renewable biomass.

The biomass-derived p-xylene can be mixed with petroleum-based plastics, and consumers will not be able to tell the difference, researchers say.  Meanwhile, manufacturers and chemical companies will be able to operate more sustainably and at lower cost.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock user Gemenacom

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