Green, sustainable materials -- some made out of shrimp shells, silk, and plant trash -- are being used for consumer packaging, shipping, and plastic bag replacements.
In fact, those are the largest applications for bioplastics, which are usually created in a process chain from ethanol to polymer that closely parallels the process for creating their petrochemical equivalents. Today durable-grade bioplastics are blended with petro-based plastics and incorporated into PCs. Engineering-grade bioplastics are being used in extreme, under-hood automotive applications.
Click the image below to start a slideshow highlighting the innovative ways green materials are being used:
Recycled plastic bottles and other waste plastic destined for landfills can be transformed into weight-bearing structural materials for heavy-load bridges, such as this one in Scotland,
shown supporting heavy equipment during its construction. (Source: Axion International)
Very cool presentation, Ann. Really gives you a sense of the varied mix of products and packaging that is now able to take advantage of these green materials. It also shows that going green from a materials standpoint doesn't have to dramatically alter the look or feel of the product--it's almost transparent from a visual perspective, which could be a benefit for companies concerned about dramatically altering their goods.
What this slideshow brings to light is the fact that "green" is not a technology per se. Rather, it's a way of looking at design, from prototyping through to recycling, to figure out the most environmentally friendly way of doing things. However, as I've said before, the reason green is taking off is simply because now, with the rising price of oil, it's finally cost effective.
Thanks, Beth. I agree: Except for the mushroom packaging, the green materials are mostly transparent to the user. Maybe that camouflage-like effect is one reason why so many of us don't realize that they're already here in so many different products we use every day.
I think there are two reasons green materials and approaches are taking off. Alex is right: the cost differential--in the sense of price of materials--is making these alternatives a no-brainer. But my research showed that the price differential swings back and forth between plus and minus depending on the ups and downs of the price of oil. The second major reason is consumer demand, which has been a longer-term factor.
I think given the choice and without having to pay more, consumers will demand more environmentally friendly materials. I know I've started in small ways, buying recycled paper products and greener household cleaners. We recently had to have some insulation work done and specifically sought out a green resource. If the greener materials are readily accessible, look somewhat "normal," and perform in the way we as consumers expect them to perform, why not seek out something that's more earth friendly?
For me, the most amazing of the green material application is still the load-bearing bridge members in Scotland. As soon as these materials get the mechanical properties that are needed, and there 's little or no cost penalty, use by engineers will really take off.
As long as the materials used is transparent to the customer, I am sure that most consumers will continue to back products that use green materials. With the backing specially among younger people, this emphasis is here to stay and will only continue to grow. Great report, Ann
I agree, Chuck. I think with all of the research being done and based on the recent reports Ann has written on biomimickry, with companies taking a page from Mother Nature to enhance the structural integrity and mechanical properties of their biomaterials projects, we're only at the beginning of all the progress to be made.
I would have to say that Cost will be the big driver. Currently the reason so many companies are using green materials is due to the hype about saving the planet. As this mentality dies out then so will the gains from using green materials (mostly marketing). Then the only way for this to be viable would be at no cost penalty.
Chuck, I'm with you on the recycled plastic bridge materials. I still find them mind-boggling, so much so that I've told friends and acquaintances about it and they're amazed, too. This whole subject of green materials is as much fun to discover and report as news was in the whiz-bang days of Silicon Valley.
Beth, I have also changed a lot of habits over the years, starting in the 1970s, such as recycling and water conservation. The latter has been relatively easy to do since I live in a drought-prone state and rationing has sometimes been mandated. More recently, I've changed what I buy, as better products have been available, especially recycled paper products that don't cost much more, and I also buy as little plastic as possible. For example, there are lots of bamboo alternatives to wood and plastic now. I also stopped buying commercial household cleaners except for Bon Ami, and mostly use baking soda and vinegar. It takes a little more elbow grease, but it's way cheaper and easier on the environment.
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.