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Sanyo delays launch of corn-based optical disc

Sanyo Electrichas delayed the introduction of an optical disc based on a polymer derived from corn that was announced last year as a more environmentally friendly alternative to plastic discs.

The disc, called "MildDisc" by Sanyo, was to have been offered to customers from December last year and volume production was due to begin in the first half of this year but this has been delayed while Sanyo refines the technology, said Ryan Watson, a spokesman for the company.

"There was a concern that if the disc was exposed to heat greater than 50 degrees Celsius that it wouldn't work properly," said Watson.

"The main obstacle that they are working on now is trying to improve the disc's resistance to heat. They can easily improve its resistance to heat with a mix of material but that kind of defeats the purpose of the MildDisc."

When it was announced last October the company received "quite a few" inquiries from potential customers, said Watson.

Sanyo is promoting its use in place of conventional discs for applications such as free CDs bundled with magazines or discs that are given away at trade shows or via direct mailings.

Production of the plastic used in the MildDisc begins with Cargill Dow in the US. It mills kernels of corn to separate out the starch and then processes these to get unrefined dextrose. Using a fermentation process similar to that of beer production, the dextrose is converted into lactic acid, according to the company's website.

Sanyo converts the lactic acid into a polymer used in the disc substrate using a method developed with Japan's Mitsui Chemicals.

Sanyo estimates that around 85 corn kernels, each weighing an average of 0.5 grams, are needed to produce enough polymer for a single 12cm optical disc, so an average ear of corn can produce around 10 discs.

The International Recording Media Association estimates world demand for CDs at around nine billion annually, and the US Department of Agriculture estimates world corn production at about 600 million tons, so less than 0.1% of the world's corn production is theoretically required to produce enough polymer to satisfy worldwide disc demand.

Martyn Williams writes for IDG News Service

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