Saturday, 12 July 2014

Bio-based Polyamides

More from AIMPLAS 2014 - Valencia...

Pep Catalan, Sales Manager – Speciality Polyamides for Arkema (France) said they intended to continue to lead the field in production of high performance polyamides based on castor oil chemistry.  Their Rilsan® process, established in the 1950’s as a way of avoiding the Dupont nylon patents, did not compete with food, avoided deforestation and used a crop which could be grown in semi-arid areas.  It was now a high-performance, high temperature resistance bio-plastic for engineering applications.

Compared with the petro-polyamides, on a cradle to factory gate basis, it reduced global warming potential by up to 52%, saving 4.7 tonnes CO2 emissions for every tonne of polymer produced.

A new elastomeric version, a PA/polyether block copolymer called “Pebax”, is now available.  Here the PA is bio-based but the polyether isn’t.  “Pebax Rnew” is however based on 95% renewable carbon and has high energy absorbtion and recovery.  This springy polymer is being developed for running shoes and ski-boots.

“Rilsan Clear” is a cycloaliphatic PA, now also bio-based. It has glass-like transparency.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

A New Engineering Bio-Composite

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Frank Steinbrecher of Mitsubishi Chemicals (Germany) introduced Durabio®, a renewable durable polycarbonate-like bio-polymer based on isosorbide made from sorbitol which in turn came from glucose made from starch.  

The technology had been developed by Roquette.  In 2010 the Durabio® capacity was 300 tpa and last year it was 5000 tpa.  The injection moulding grade has high hardness and the end-products are positioned between PMMA and PC for transparency. Compared with PC, Durabio® also performs better on weathering but is slightly worse for tensile strength.  It is being used to make high-gloss coatings for mobile phones by injection moulding and as glass-replacements in roadside sound barriers by extrusion.  Automotive parts are also made by extrusion and have proved to have the necessary optical, chemical and safety characteristics for interior trim.  It is less flammable than either PMMA or PC.  Asked if it was weldable to ABS like PC is, Mr Steinbecher thought it was, in principle, but Mitsubishi would be happy to test this.
Mitsubishi’s GS Pla was their biodegradable polymer originally made from petrochemicals and now available from bio-succinic acid.  Despite its name it is a polybutyl succinate and not a PLA.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Biopolymers in Nestlé

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Carlos de la Cruz, the Head of Regulatory Affairs for Nespresso Capsules criticised the industry for confusing consumers with too many eco-claims and argued that the packaging was the key to improvement.  It not only protected the product and kept it fresh but could also be used to communicate with and educate the consumer.  Communications had to be based on comprehensive life-cycle assessments of the food and its pack from farm to fork.  Bioplastics made from foodcrops can improve the environment but crops do need fertilisers and pesticides.  These are based on fossil carbon and have additional adverse impacts on the ecology per se.  Irrigation if needed is a further negative impact in LCA terms.  Furthermore, bioplastics food packs must protect the food from spoilage to the same extent as petro-polymers or the resulting extra wastage will easily nullify any benefits. 

Examples of successful packaging using biopolymers where the benefits were explained on the packs included Purina One Beyond dog food, PLA twist wrap for sweets on Quality Street in the UK, Herta Sweet Ham using a 20% bio-sourced wrap in France, the Davy Milk carton bioplastic cap and “Vittel” water bottles using 30% biosourced PET in France.  

The Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance had been formed this year and brought together companies such as Nestlé, P&G, Unilever, Coca Cola, Heinz, Nike and Ford among others.  The next generation of bioplastics (Gen 3) would be derived from non-food sources such as wood, waste, drought resistant plants and algae.  (Gen 1 was PLA, described as food-based and unsuitable for widespread use in packaging.  Gen 2 were the “drop-in” polymers suitable for widespread use but expensive and made from sugar via ethanol.)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Green and Sustainable Composites

More from AIMPLAS 2014 - Valencia...

Kerry Kirwan of Warwick University (UK) has re-evaluated the use of jute, flax and hemp in composite reinforcement.  These materials have been used mainly in electric cars where weight reduction c.f steel or GRP is a virtuous circle, and where, unlike the money-no-object F1 cars, carbon fibre is too expensive.  Unfortunately the variability of tensile properties from these natural product prevents them from performing as well as might be expected, so Warwick has been looking at their energy absorbtion properties with applications in crash-structures in mind.

Kerry Kirwan at the podium
Surprisingly, woven hemp or flax crash cones in a biobased resin matrix worked better than aerospace grade carbon fibre in epoxy resin.  These biocomposites  have now been incorporated into a Lola F3 car.

Marta Pascual of DSM Composite Resins (Holland) listed the challenges facing the EU composites industry:

  • ·         Replacement of styrene due to its problems of flammability, toxicity and odour.
  • ·         Replacement of the catalysts used for hardening: cobalt salts and tertiary aromatic amines.
  • ·         Reducing dependence on fossil carbon sources and their price volatility.
One of their key products was in fact that contradiction in terms, the thermostable thermoplastic, an unsaturated polyester resin used in automotive applications (“Palapreg”) and artificial marble (“Synolite”).

Beyone™ (201-A-01) was a  40% renewable, cobalt-free, styrene-free resin used in the manufacture of wind-turbine blades by DSM/Siemens.  Coupled with Blucure™ curing technology, it had won the JEC Innovation award (2012).

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Sustainability as a business strategy: Ecodesign

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Miguel Sibila of the Department of Sustainability and Industrial Valorisation at AIMPLAS observed that our environmental problems were the natural consequence of unrestrained economic growth.  This had been recognised as long ago as 1987 when the Brundtland Report made the case for capitalism giving social and environmental issues equal weight with economic issues.

The resulting sustainability movement began with prevention of pollution, moved to a focus on the environmental impacts of industrial processes and now encompassed the entire global environment.  In fact the production of green products had become one of the main economic drivers, and all consumers would now choose lower carbon footprint products in the absence of any price/quality disadvantages.  40% of consumers are willing to pay a premium.

Mr Sibila made the case for Eco-design or basing a product’s design on LCA,  because 80% of environmental impacts are fixed during the design phase.  

Ecodesign would involve:

  • ·         Minimising raw material use
  • ·         Improving energy efficiency and optimisation of any transportation needs
  • ·         Using natural products, recycled materials and biopolymers rather than petro-polymers.
  • ·         Making biopolymers from organic waste rather than foodcrops.
  • ·         Reducing waste by optimising packaging and its recycling
  • ·         Altering production processes to suit environmentally friendly materials
...and finally using certification and eco-labels to communicate with the consumer.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Bio-polyethylene Life-Cycle Analysis

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Martin Clemesha of Braskem (Brazil) reminded us that Brazil had the world’s best climate for growing sugar cane and was therefore the best place for producing biofuels and biopolymers.  Once again the land-use issue was dealt with thoroughly. 1 hectare of land can produce 77 tonnes of cane which can make 6700 liters of ethanol or 3 tonnes of ethylene or polyethylene per year.  Braskem’s capacity for PE, now 200,000 tonnes/year represented 2% of Brazil’s total ethylene production or 0.02% of Brazilian arable land.

On a cradle to factory gate basis, the “I’m green” PE had a negative Global Warming Potential of -2.15kgs CO2/kg PE.  The by-products of ethanol production, vinasse liquor and bagasse solids, both contribute to this benefit. The vinasse liquor (13 litres per litre of ethanol produced) is phosphorous-rich and used for irrigation, replacing some petro-fertilisers which would otherwise be needed.  The bagasse (cane minus the sugar) is burnt in the power station providing more than enough electricity for the process.  Overall, the process uses 1/5th of the fossil carbon used for petro-PE production.

Bio-LDPE is now available alongside the linear-low and high density grades.  Illustrations of new applications included Huggies diapers in Asia.

Asked about the costs of the bio-PE Mr Clemesha said it would be a long time before they could compete with petro-PE.  They had made massive investments and “I’m Green” would be a premium product for a long time. He could not say how much more expensive it would be but commented that it could well be the cheapest bio-plastic.  Could the bagasse be used in composites?  No, it was susceptible to rotting.