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?
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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