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July 10, 2018 | Tom Ballard

Domtar acquires majority interest in Knoxville’s Prisma Renewable Composites

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

A company with 10,000 employees and 29 manufacturing facilities around the world made a big announcement yesterday regarding Knoxville-based Prisma Renewable Composites LLC, a company focused on developing advanced materials from lignin and other natural resources.

Domtar Corporation, based in Fort Mill, SC, has acquired a majority interest in the Knoxville-based spin-off of TennEra LLC. The global player, which has annual sales of more than $5 billion dollars, will help commercialize the process of using lignin to make engineered plastic compounds such as Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and other high-value fiber and lignin applications.

The deal is great news for Adam McCall, Prisma’s Chief Executive Officer.

“We believe their commercialization plans and capabilities give Prisma an incredible advantage in establishing a robust supply chain from lignin to the final material production,” the Blount County native said.

The agreement completes a several-year journey by McCall who returned to the region at the urging of the late David Millhorn, Executive Vice President and Vice President for Research, Outreach and Economic Development at the University of Tennessee (UT). We first spotlighted those efforts to find a viable commercialization path in this two-part series (Part 1 and Part 2) from early 2014.

Now, more than four years later, the vision has been realized.

“No one gave me the playbook,” McCall told us recently. “I’ve had a patient group of supporters,” citing both Millhorn and UT President Joe DiPietro.

In addition to being a win for Prisma, yesterday’s announcement is also a win for both the UT Research Foundation and Oak Ridge National Laboratory which have executed licensing agreements with Prisma. The start-up’s portfolio includes lignin-derived thermoplastic co-polymers, polymer blend compositions, lignin-acrylonitrile polymer blends, and its patented lignin fractionation process named evolUTIATM that creates very pure lignin and cellulose streams.

Domtar also sees the agreement as a key part of its future.

“Innovation is core to Domtar Biomaterials’ growth strategy,” said Mark DeAndrea, Domtar Biomaterials Vice President. “We’re pleased to have the opportunity to partner with an industry leading renewable composite company.”

The company is a leader in lignin separation and the development of lignin-based materials. It recently installed a demonstration plant in Ontario, Canada, to show how lignin pellets can potentially be used as a bio-alternative to plastic, chemicals and other petroleum-based products.

“Domtar Biomaterials is a bridge between science and commercialization,” DeAndrea explained. “This investment leverages Prisma’s scientific research capabilities and unique product development strategy with Domtar’s commercialization and lignin production expertise.”

Domtar’s closest plant is in Kingsport where the company produces fiber for the manufacture of uncoated, free-sheet copy paper. The facility is also a stand-alone energy source reusing up to 100 percent of its manufacturing waste.


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