The biggest story in materials this year is sustainability. Producers and users alike are looking for plastics made from feedstocks that are not as environmentally damaging as petroleum. I’ve written extensively on ambitious programs in Japan as well as the major DuPont initiative. Now comes another big story: Dow Chemical Co. is building a world-scale polyethylene plant in Brazil using sugarcane-based ethanol as the feedstock. Dow’s partner is Crystalev, a major Brazilian ethanol producer. Expected to begin production in 2011, the facility will have a capacity of 350,000 metric tons annually.
This is a positive development on many fronts. Most importantly, sugar cane is a much more efficient source of biofeedstock than corn, which is used in North America. In fact, sugarcane is eight times more efficient as a feedstock than corn. Widespread use of corn as a plastic or fuel material also puts stress on global food supplies. It also makes no sense from an environmental perspective, given the amount of petroleum required to make ethanol.
On a molecular level, the new sugarcane-based material will be identical to current high-grade PE products made by Dow around he world from petroleum. In other words, it will be a drop-in replacement for applications including pipe, film, membranes and packaging. The new material will also be fully recyclable using current infrastructure. Dow also made pains to point out the new plant will not be built in a rainforest.
Instead of sifting through huge amounts of technical data looking for answers to assembly problems, engineers can now benefit from 3M's new initiative -- 3M Assembly Solutions. The company has organized its wealth of adhesive and tape solutions into six typical application areas, making it easier to find the best products to solve their real-world assembly and bonding problems.
Many of the materials in this slideshow are resins or elastomers, plus reinforced materials, styrenics, and PLA masterbatches. Applications range from automotive and aerospace to industrial, consumer electronics and wearables, consumer goods, medical and healthcare, as well as sporting goods, and materials for protecting food and beverages.
Engineers trying to keep track of the ever-ballooning number of materials and machines for additive manufacturing and 3D printing now have some relief: a free searchable database with more than 350 machines and 450 different materials.
At JEC Europe Dow Automotive introduced a new ultra-fast, under-60-second molding cycle time for its commercial-grade VORAFORCE 5300 epoxy resin matrix for carbon composites. It's aimed at high-volume automotive manufacturing.
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