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…
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
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