Bioplastics may be the hottest materials story of 2007. But the topic has not caught fire at a number of major companies, ranging from GE Plastics to Bayer MaterialScience. A member of the BMS management board, Ian Paterson, put the issue into perspective at the company’s recent pre-K 2007 press conference in New York City. “We use six million tons of benzene and derivatives a year,” said Paterson in response to a question from Design News. “No one can supply six million tons of bio feedstocks.” The statement followed a discussion of the growing unpredictably of the costs in the benzene chain due to lack of production capacity and the vagaries of hydrocarbons. Might that not be a reason to give sustainable resources a bigger chance? Paterson made many other points, all true. One, biopolymers will be more expensive short-term. Another: design engineers want performance improvements, and that will be the driver of Bayer R&D. And looking at the issue from a political/environmental perspective, he noted that plastics represent only 2% of all hydrocarbon use. If the issue is to reduce use of hydrocarbons, might other targets be more attractive? And lastly, he noted that Bayer has used plant feedstocks for polyols and has a promising program for developing bio materials for use in aliphatic coatings. And being a good corporate spokesman, he also noted that Bayer is taking a “long, hard look” at the issue.
All of his comments are 100% true and very defendable. However, it can’t be denied that thee is a major push to develop bioplastics in Japan for engineering applications. Leaders such as Toyota have announced ambitious plans in bioplastics. DuPont is placing a major investment bet on biofeedstocks, although for sure only a tiny trickle of that may move into engineering applications if there is no demand. And to be sure, companies such as Bayer and GE Plastics (soon to be part of SABIC) have other major environmental platforms. But still…
These new 3D-printing technologies and printers include some that are truly boundary-breaking: a sophisticated new sub-$10,000, 10-plus materials bioprinter, the first industrial-strength silicone 3D-printing service, and a clever twist on 3D printing and thermoforming for making high-quality realistic models.
Using simulation to guide the drafting process can speed up the design and production of 3D-printed nanostructures, reduce errors, and even make it possible to scale up the structures. Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a model that does this.
Engineers need workhorse materials with beefy mechanical properties for industrial designs made with 3D printing. Very few have been designed from the ground up for additive manufacturing, but that picture is beginning to change.
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