BIOLOGY AT DUPONT LEADS TO NEW POLYESTER
Byline: Scott Malone
NEW YORK — Biology is the new big thing at DuPont.
That’s been most obvious in the industrial giant’s pharmaceuticals and agriculture business, and life science elements are working their way into everything — even into what the company says is a new and improved version of its old standby, polyester.
“The DuPont mission is sustainable growth. We define that as creating financial value and societal value while we decrease our environmental footprint,” said Charles Holliday, chairman and chief executive officer, at his annual meeting with the press here Tuesday.
One technology that will help the Wilmington, Del., company reduce that footprint is 3GT, he continued, “a new variety of polyester we have produced where half of the molecule can be produced from biological sources — actually, corn.”
The result, he continued, is a new variety of polyester with greater stretch properties and improved stain resistance that is also “very environmentally friendly.”
Holliday called 3GT “just one example of how we blend our experience in physics and chemistry with modern biology.”
In the new fiber, polyester chemical component ethylene glycol, a petroleum product, is replaced by trimethylene glycol, a corn byproduct that is produced when the grain is fed to a microorganism developed by DuPont.
The company is showing the new variety of fiber to mills on a confidential basis and expects clothing made of it to hit retail shelves in two years, according to a spokesman. Garment samples and swatches made of the fiber were shown at the briefing at the Waldorf-Astoria Tuesday.
Questions about DuPont’s commitment to the polyester and nylon business have dogged the company this year, following its March announcement that it was seeking a way to reduce its capital spending in those areas.
Holliday reiterated that the company decided it would cut its spending on nylon ventures in Asia by half because “the economies of some projects are not as appealing as we had anticipated,” but added, “This should not be read as any lessening of our commitment to Asia.”
He also said Asia’s economies appear to be righting themselves.
“At least for DuPont, we have turned the corner this year,” he said, noting the company’s revenues and earnings in that region have increased from last year.
Last week’s announcement that the company was trimming its spending on nylon was DuPont’s first indication of how its effort to make its basic businesses less capital-intensive would affect that enterprise.
Earlier in the year it reached agreements to move much of its polyester business into joint ventures with partners around the world.
Holliday was noncommittal about whether DuPont would consider a similar strategy for nylon.
“If a joint venture added value for our shareholders in nylon, we would do it,” he said. “Joint ventures aren’t good or bad in themselves. They’re good when they’re right.”
He also said that, after moving much of the polyester enterprise into joint ventures, “we think this is going to be a very profitable model for a long time to come.”
Holliday sketched out the company’s environmental goals for the next decade. DuPont plans to reduce its output of greenhouse gases by 65 percent, halve its energy use and get at least 10 percent of the energy it consumes from renewable resources like solar and wind power.
Also at the briefing, the company showed its first global TV advertising campaign, which was to make its debut on U.S network programs Tuesday evening.
Titled “To-Do List for the Planet,” the ads list the company’s accomplishments and its objectives for the years ahead.
Two apparel goals made the list. One was “Help make clothes that clean themselves (Did that.),” a reference to the company’s Teflon fabric treatment.
The other apparel goal was “Invent fabric that knows to warm or cool you,” a task still to be accomplished.