A major theme at K 2010, the giant polymers show held in Germany
recently, was sustainability. But the definition of the green concept is taking
very different directions among the major global resin producers when it comes
to feedstock sources for engineering plastics.
There are three camps:
- There's a big future in plastics
made from plant-based renewable resources.
- The best approach is to incorporate
as much post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic as possible in new compounds.
- The best route to sustainability is
to accelerate efforts to reduce weight of cars and other vehicles through
increased focus on reinforcement technologies and improved compounds.
Of course, there may well be some element of each strategy
in each camp, but it was interesting to see at K 2010 that most producers
strongly stressed one strategy over the other.
Two major companies have placed significant stakes in the
ground for the plants-to-plastics approach: DuPont and DSM. Sabic Innovative
Plastics likes the PCR route. BASF prefers light weighting approaches.
Here's a rundown of this reporter's perception of the resin
production strategies of the following companies.DuPont
stand at the front of the DuPont exhibit at K 2010 showed close to a dozen applications
for its industry-leading portfolio of renewably-sourced engineering plastics.
was an automotive airbag cover made with renewably sourced elastomer
jointly developed with Takata-Petri of Aschaffenburg, Germany.
Marsha Craig, global business manager for renewably sourced
performance materials, told Design News that DuPont only intends to introduce
biobased products that offer competitive or superior properties to existing
DuPont's expanding renewably sourced product line includes
Sorona EP engineering plastics, which contains 20 to 37 percent renewably
sourced material; Hytrel RS thermoplastic elastomers, which contain 35 to 65
percent renewably sourced material; and
Zytel RS polyamides, which contain 63 to 100 percent sebacic acid
derived from castor oil.
One sign of the success at DuPont was the announcement this
year that capacity at a joint venture bio-PDO resin plant in Loudon, TN will be
expanded 35 percent by the middle of 2011.
Jens Hamprecht, head of biodegradable
plastics, said in an interview that BASF believes light weighting is generally the
best route to address climate change problems such as carbon dioxide emissions.
BASF has developed a sophisticated software tool that compares various product
or process alternatives and considers the journey through the product's life
including production and disposal, looking at both the efficiency and
ecological effects. BASF
says it will only introduce plastics made with renewable resources if its
analysis shows improved properties and environmental benefits over the course
of the material's life.
BASF terminated its oxo-biodegradable additive July 1, 2010.
The chemical additive was part of the Ciba acquisition in 2009 and was used to
manufacture polyethylene mulch films for agricultural use. Meanwhile, BASF is expanding
its capacity to make a biodegradable plastic called Ecoflex by 60,000 metric
tons by the end of this year. Exoflex is made from fossil fuel feestocks, but
is blended with polylactic acid purchased from NatureWorks to produce a
biodegradable blend that is partially bio-based.
BASF does have two biobased products: polyamide and polyol.Sabic Innovative
Sabic IP made sustainability a major pitch as its K 2010 press
conference and announced appointment of a sustainability officer, Robert McKay.
Sabic's approach is driven by two
: the difficulty of producing bioplastics for aromatic polymers and
the availability of high-quality plastic waste.
"The sources vary around the world," says Thomas J. Stanley, vice
president of technology at Sabic IP. Waste appliance components and
polycarbonate water bottles are a good source in some parts of the world, while
there are ample supplies of discarded CDs and DVDs in others. The newest grades
are Noryl (modified polyphenylene ether) Classico PCR resin, which contains 20
percent post-consumer recyclate; Cycoloy PCR resins, based on 30 to 50 percent
polycarbonate from water bottles, CDs, and other sources; and Lexan EXL PCR
resins, which have polycarbonate post-consumer content of up to 80 percent. DSM
Dutch-based company is in the midst of transforming itself from a commodity
chemicals producer to a company focused on high-value emerging technologies.
Renewable resources fit right in. The corporate venturing subsidiary of DSM
invested $20 million in Tianjin Green Bio-Science Co. to build China's largest
manufacturing plant for polyhydroxyalkanoates, which are produced by bacteria
that process glucose or starch. DSM is also partnering with a French company to
produce polybutylene succinate (PBS), a synthetic aliphatic polyester with
similar properties to PET. DSM is also investing in furanic
chemical feedstocks for bioplastics through Avantium, which is building a pilot
plant on the DSM manufacturing campus in the Netherlands called Chemelot. DSM
has several other renewably sourced plastics.
A few general points need to be made:
- These four resin producers are highlighted here
because they seemed to make the clearest points about their direction on
climate change issues at K 2010.
- All of these companies emphasize that efficient
and clean manufacturing are important factors in sustainability.
- Most of the action in bioplastics is coming from
smaller, technology-driven companies. In this way, the emerging bioplastics
industry reflects the early years of the biotechnology industry.