Thursday 26 June 2014

Biopolymers in Nestlé

More from AIMPLAS 2014 - Valencia...

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.

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

More from AIMPLAS 2014 - Valencia...

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

More from AIMPLAS 2014 - Valencia...

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.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Horizon 2020: Opportunities for Biopolymers

More from AIMPLAS 2014 - Valencia...

José Manuel Gonzalez, the Spanish Delegate and Contact Point at the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, International Programmes Directorate, European Programs Division (Spain) enthused about the EU’s Bioeconomy objectives for 2020 without getting bogged down in anything too specific.  

The objectives included:
  • ·         Discovering and exploiting new terrestrial and aquatic biomass resources to minimise environmental impacts.  Marine biomass could yield many new molecules.
  • ·         Developing integrated second and third generation bio-refineries.  (First generation refineries used food-crops as raw material.  2nd generation will use forestry, 3rd generation will use waste products.)
  • ·         The work programme for 2014-15 (€486M) will focus on Sustainable Food Security, Blue Growth (Seas and Oceans), and Innovative Sustainable Inclusive Bioeconomics (!).
  • ·         Specifically the “Value Chains” of bio-based industries would be more important. E.g.
         o   Biofuels, biochemicals and biomaterials from lignocellulosic feedstocks.
         o   Utilisation of the next generation of forest-based value chains for new added value products.
         o   Utilisation of the next generation of agro-based value chains to realise the highest sustainability and added value from improved agricultural production.  New oil crops would be sought.
         o   Realising sustainable bio-energy production by backwards integration with bio-refineries making high added value materials.
  • ·         Research on converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into useful chemicals would be encouraged.
  • ·         “Waste” would be redefined as an attractive source of raw materials.

In summing up, Mr Gonzalez said EU programmes (and hopefully the Job TitlesEd.) would become less R&D oriented and more applied.

Thursday 5 June 2014

Bioplastic Opportunities and Challenges

Summaries of the papers given at the Bioplastics and Sustainable Composites conference at AIMPLAS, Valencia in March 2014 are being posted here...

Constance Brükerl, Environmental Affairs Manager at the European Bioplastics Association reviewed how the market for bioplastics was developing, making it clear that the Association which had been set up with biodegradable plastics in mind was now heavily involved with non-degradable materials i.e. conventional polymers produced from non-fossilized biomass.  These were now referred to as bio-based or durable bioplastics.
·         The Durable bioplastics market would grow seven-fold in the 5 years from 2012 to reach 5,000,000 tonnes by 2017, this growth being driven by PET30, a bottle polymer blend of 70% PET and 30% bio-PET.  (Clearly only 30% of the PET30 blend in this statistic is bio-PET)

  • ·         Bio-polyethylene would grow steadily and by 2017 “drop-in” bioversions of  PA, PU, PC, PVC, PP and durable starch blends would all be available.
  • ·         Use of foodcrops to make durable bioplastics was described as negligible: stopping it would confer no benefit to society.

·         Biodegradable plastics would grow from 600,000 tonnes in 2012 to a million tonnes in 2017, with half of this growth being driven by PLA expansion.
  • ·         75% of this market was in packaging, catering and agriculture.  Regenerated cellulose, presumably cellophane and acetate packaging film was included.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Chinese Dissolving Pulp production to reach 1m tonnes by 2016

In 2013, global dissolving pulp capacity approximated 6.3 million tons which were mainly produced in such countries where forest resources are abundant as North America, South Africa and Brazil. As the dissolving pulp industry is fairly profitable during 2009-2011 when a great number of dissolving pulp projects were built in China, the dissolving pulp capacity of China rose to about one million tons till 2013, holding the second place in the world.
Although with a rather large dissolving pulp capacity, China is in short of forest resources and Chinese dissolving pulp manufacturers has a higher production cost than international counterparts. In 2012-2013, China’s viscose fiber industry remained in the doldrums, hence a lower demand for dissolving pulp. This, coupled with the impact of the global low-priced dissolving pulp on the domestic market, led to a universally low operating rate for dissolving pulp devices, thus resulting in the overall loss-making of the industry. In 2013, the output of dissolving pulp in China was only around 360kt, with a mere 36% operating rate but export dependency ratio as much as 83.4%.
In April 2014, Ministry of Commerce People’s Republic of China announced final determination in anti-dumping investigation: starting from April 6, 2014, China would levy tariffs of 17%, 13% and 6.8% on the pulp produced in the United States, Canada, and Brazil, respectively. The implementation period would span 5 years since April 6, 2014. This is good for the sales of dissolving pulp in China and would hinder the impact of the imported dissolving pulp. Although the factors including destocking in distribution and weak demand from downstream market led to the fluctuation of the prices of dissolving pulp in the bottom, the dissolving pulp industry in China is expected to witness a turning point in 2014.
The world’s dissolving pulp industry features quite high concentration and key industrial players consist of Sappi, Aditya Birla, Lenzing, Sateri, Rayonier, etc. In 2013, the total dissolving pulp capacity of the aforesaid five producers accounted for roughly 54.5% of global total. In the forthcoming years, the world’s dissolving pulp capacity will continue to grow and the key increments will involve the successively expanded capacity of 300kt from Lenzing, the capacity of 190kt switched for production by Rayonier, the newly built capacity of 175kt from Thailand’s Double A, and otherwise.
Chinese dissolving pulp manufacturers are mainly medium and large paper-making enterprises and chemical fiber enterprises; wherein, the paper-making enterprises is chiefly composed of Yueyang Forest & Paper, Sun Paper and Zhenlai Xinsheng Paper (putting into production in 2013), mainly producing wood dissolving pulp and with their capacities hitting 300 kt/a, 200 kt/a and 100 kt/a respectively; and chemical fiber enterprises include Jilin Chemical Fiber Group and Yibin Grace Group Company, producing bamboo dissolving pulp in the main, of which the 95 kt/a bamboo pulp project of Jilin Chemical Fiber Group is still under construction and expected to put into production in 2014.
As a large consumer of viscose fiber around the globe, China’s output of viscose fiber is anticipated to keep a growth rate of 10% or so in the upcoming years, which beyond doubt stimulate a rise in the demand for dissolving pulp. After anti-dumping tariff is levied by China on the imported dissolving pulp in 2014, the output of home-made dissolving pulp in China is expected to grow steadily, and it will get to around one million tons in 2016.