I have blogged here in the past against the use of bioplastics as a solution to the solid waste problem. They don’t degrade in properly built landfills and they can foul recycling streams. I was at a meeting last Wednesday, however, where the biopolymer producers seem to be improving their case.
Stefan Facco of Novamont said that the European Commission ranks composting on an equal level with recycling as a way to reduce waste. The only strategies ranking higher are waste reduction and re-use. Novamont is targeting food-service applications such as fast-food restaurants and cafeterias where it’s too time-consuming or energy intensive to wash food waste off plates or utensils. Those materials would go into a composting stream instead of a recycling stream. The extent to which those types of composting systems will be developed, however, still remains to be seen. That’s the only case to me that may make sense for use of biodegradable plastics for food service products. Use of degradable plastic for agricultural mulch is a no-brainer and is already an important product. The cost of the starch-based bioplastics made by Novamont, however, still cost two to five times more than the commodity plastics they replace. Given that, might incineration of additive-free plastics in a waste-to-energy plant make more sense?
A new compression molding compound material combines the light weight, strength, and rigidity of carbon fibers with the flexibility and lower cost of glass materials in a composite compatible with automotive production.
Plastic bearings are real and millions of them are in use doing heavy-duty jobs we used to think only metals could do. Some of Germany-based igus's bearings are traveling around the world as functional parts in a car to demonstrate what they can do.
Baxter showed off his 2.0-derived moves at ATX West this year. The big red guy still looks pretty much the same, but has some new abilities, mostly due to software. The research robot version is now being used in corporate R&D departments as a design platform.
End-production using 3D printing, including objects made of multiple materials in one pass, is getting closer to reality as we saw on the exhibit floor at the recent Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show.