On hand at the plant opening in Loudon, Tenn. are (from left) Chad Holliday, Jr., DuPont chairman and ceo; U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman; Jeffrey Lorberbaum, ceo of Mohawk Industries; and Iain Ferguson, chief executive of Tate & Lyle.

Signaling what promises to be a new era in carpet production, Mohawk and its supplier have found a way to make its SmartStrand carpet using corn sugar rather than petrochemicals. The company said the move to a raw material that is far more plentiful and less expensive has been made possible by a process introduced at a newly-opened plant that supplies carpet polymer for Mohawk.

The facility in Loudon, Tenn. is a joint venture between the chemical giant DuPont and Tate & Lyle, a London, England-based company that specalizes in converting corn and other renewable crops into industrial products. The plant is described as the first in the world to produce Bio-PDO (1,3-propanediol) using corn instead of  petroleum. Bio-PDO is used to make the DuPont Sorona polymer which, in turn, is used in the manufacture of  SmartStrand carpet. Mohawk officials stressed that the new “renewable resource” polymer offers the same performance benefits as the petroleum–based product.

“We’re taking carpet fiber literally from the field to the floor,” said Jeff Lorberbaum, Mohawk chairman and ceo at a ceremony at the plant. “We’re looking forward to giving our industry another remarkable innovation – one that will benefit our dealers, our consumers, and the environment. This is allowing us to take the next step in environmental sustainability.” He noted that products made using bio-based polymer will be phased in and will be available beginning this fall.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman, who was on hand for the plant opening, said the breakthrough promised several benefits. “It’s encouraging to see industry team up to make incredible advances in bio-based technology, building upon the Department of Energy’s efforts to reduce our reliance on imported oil, aggressively confront climate change and help maintain our nation’s competitive edge in the global marketplace.”

The Loudon plant, officially known as the DuPont Tate & Lyle Bio Products Plant, is a 50/50 joint venture of DuPont and Tate & Lyle. The two companies partnered   to produce the proprietary fermentation process that offers a new approach to making Bio-PDO. According to DuPont, its production requires 40 percent less energy, while  reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent. Annual production of 100 million pounds of Bio-PDO will save the energy equivalent of over 15 million gallons of gasoline per year, DuPont officials said. Bio-PDO is also used in cosmetics, liquid detergents and industrial applications such as anti-freeze and airplane de-icing products.