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…
Alcoa has unveiled a new manufacturing and materials technology for making aluminum sheet, aimed especially at automotive, industrial, and packaging applications. If all its claims are true, this is a major breakthrough, and may convince more automotive engineers to use aluminum.
NASA has just installed a giant robot to help in its research on composite aerospace materials, like those used for the Orion spacecraft. The agency wants to shave the time it takes to get composites through design, test, and manufacturing stages.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is working with architects Foster + Partners to test the possibility of using lunar regolith, or moon rocks, and 3D printing to make structures for use on the moon. A new video shows some cool animations of a hypothetical lunar mission that carries out this vision.
If there's one thing 3D printing's good for, it's customization. New Balance Athletic Shoe Company has begun using 3D printing to make customized spike plates for its running shoes made for members of its Team New Balance runners. They provide better traction and shave off a tiny bit of weight.
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