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)
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.
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.
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.
Dow Chemical and several other companies have launched a program in Omaha, Neb. to divert about 36 tons of plastics from landfills in its first phase, and convert it into energy used for cement production.
A make-your-own Star Wars Sith Lightsaber hilt is heftier and better-looking than most others out there, according to its maker, Sean Charlesworth. You can 3D print it from free source files, and there's even a hardware kit available -- not free -- so you can build one just in time for Halloween.
Some next-generation bio-based materials are superior in performance to their petro-based counterparts, but also face some commercial challenges. This is especially true of certain biopolymers, adhesives, coatings, and advanced materials.
Cars and other vehicles, as well as electronics and medical devices, continue to lead the use cases for the new plastics products we've been seeing, as engineers design products for tougher environments.
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