Walk the aisles of the National Plastics Exposition, held last month in Chicago, and you might well think that the show is all about processing machinery.The noise and heat thrown off by all the injection molding, blow molding, extrusion, and auxiliary equipment would be your first clue. And though a good chunk of the nearly 65,000 attendees doubtless went to check out the very latest in processing hardware, a few of the big engineering plastics suppliers also used the show to talk about the future of engineering plastics. Here's a look at two important developments:
A new crop of bio-polymers won’t skimp on mechanical properties
With oil prices and supplies becoming more uncertain, plastics suppliers have become keenly interested in materials based on renewable feedstocks.DuPont Engineering Polymers at the show previewed two new bio-polymers it will roll out in 2007.
Both take advantage of a patented single-step fermentation process that DuPont has developed to turn corn sugar into propanediol (PDO). This Bio-PDO can be used to make variety of plastics, cutting down on the use of petrochemicals. The company’s new bio-polymers will come in two flavors at first.
One combines Bio-PDO and terephthalic acid into a material called polytrimethylene terephthalate. That's a mouthful, but DuPont will market the material under the easy-to-pronounce “Sorona” moniker. About 37 percent of the material's content will come from renewable resources, reports Nandan Rao, global vice president of technology for DuPont Performance Materials.
The other material will be a new thermoplastic elastomer, a version of the company's Hytrel. It, too, will use Bio-PDO, though here it will be the basis for the polyol that forms the material's soft segment. Renewable content for this elastomer will range from 40 to 60 percent, with softer grades containing proportionally more of the renewable PDO.
Plenty of renewable materials have been developed in labs and a few are even on the market today. But Rao points out two things that set DuPont's efforts apart: economics and mechanical properties. On the first score, DuPont is now building a 100 million lb/year plant to produce Bio-PDO in Tennessee. The size of the plant and the fact that the fermentation takes place in one step, rather than the usual two, will make Bio-PDO and the plastics based on it economically viable, he explains.
The other is mechanical properties (click here for properties). Rao notes the Sorona, which can bereinforced with glass, has properties that make will let it compete with popular engineering resins. "It performs and molds very much like PBT," he notes. DuPont has already worked with a customer to run in in tools for electrical connectors, for example.
The new Hytrel, likewise, performs much like its non-renewable counterparts--and may even have a slight advantage in elastic recovery over the material’s continuous use temperature range (-40 to 130 C).Potential applications include
automotive ductwork, CVJ boots, and airbag components.
These two new bio-polymers will likely be just the first in DuPont's portfolio. Rao says the company is looking into renewable sources for nylon too. And he notes that DuPont's goal is achieve 25 percent of its revenue from non-depletable resources by 2010.
For more information, click here
Engineering plastics can take new roles in tomorrow’s cars
A concept car that showcases a collection of cutting edge plastics technologies was on display, for the first time in North America, at the Bayer MaterialScience booth. Created through a collaboration between Bayer and Rinspeed AG, a Swiss automotive design firm, the "zaZen" car features alternative systems for automotive lighting, seating, glazing, and coatings.
Some of the technologies even combine in novel ways, notes Bob Kumpf, Bayer's vice president of future business. For instance, consider the car’s roof and lighting system. The zaZen features a contoured polycarbonate roof dome that joins the car at its belt line--with the help of an new elastic adhesive that matches to clarity of the roof dome. The rear portion of the polycarbonate dome also illuminates, like a giant brake light, through the use of holographic technology. Kumpf predicts that in the coming years holography will start to play a role in automotive lighting. "Think of all the design possibilities," he says, noting that holograph has the ability to the make on-demand changes to the appearance and transparency of the glazing.
Other plastics technologies on the zaZen include a plastic seating concept based on polycarbonate shells and a gel-like foam. And the exterior of the car features a self-healing polyurethane clear coating that contains millions of tiny Swarovski crystals.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the "zaZen" is no slouch in the speed department.It’s powered by a 355-hp six-cylinder boxer engine taken from the Porsche 997 Carrera S. With a top speed of 293 mph, the "zaZen" accelerates from zero to 100 mph in 4.8 seconds.
For specs, photos, and videos of the ZaZen.
For more information on the NPE 2006