This is a great idea. The fact that it uses non-food plant material is a real plus. It reminds me of the discussion around the rare earths in magnets discussion. There are often alternatives, and sometimes they are better. Good story.
Nice article, Ann. It's good to see materials coming out that offer improved features while also offering a greener composition. Is there also an end-of-life improvement? Are these materials easier to recycle, or do they breakdown better than traditional plastics because of their plant content?
Thanks, guys. I was especially happy to see bio-based solutions for vinyl, which is extremely prevalent in so many products. End-of-life issues were not addressed, but vinyl is not one of those plastics that is easily recycled: those that are are likely to be the less durable, single-use ones.
I agree with naperlou, it's great that non-food plant based maaterials are being used. It shouldn't be an either/or as we develop more earth friendly plastics.
I can't wait to see how these hold up, especially in footwear and consumer electronics. One issue we've had over the years with eco-friendly materials is that they tend to breakdown too quickly. Consumers do not tolerate that! Or, can't handle the high heat needed in the assembly process.
@NadineJ: the article indicates that the the new bio-based plasticizers are actually more thermally stable than traditional plasticizers. So, at least in that regard, they should be an improvement.
By the way, the PVC is still the same old PVC. What's new are the plasticizers. By itself, PVC is igid; think of PVC plumbing pipe, for example. In order to make flexible PVC, chemicals called plasticizers are added. These chemicals behave like solvents, causing the polymer to soften and swell.
There are a number of health concerns about the phthalate plasticizers which are currently used in PVC. So, of course, non-phthalate plasticizers are a hot topic right now. I can imagine that bio-based non-phthalate plasticizers would be an even hotter topic -- especially if they are cheap! So this is quite a significant development.
On a side note: Louis Cappucci is correct that the chlorine in the PVC is ultimately derived from sea salt, but there's nothing special about that; you could say the same about anything which contains chlorine, such as the muriatic acid you buy at the hardware store. This is just a bit of spin. (It doesn't negate the significance of the new plasticizers, though).
In a related story, a tragic explosion last month which killed two people in a chemical plant in Germany may be opening the door to bio-based nylons. The explosion has tightened the supply of nylon-12, which is widely used in automotive fuel line applications.
Evonik, the company which had the explosion in Germany, has been suggesting its bio-based Vestamid Terra nylon grades as an alternative to the nylon-12 grades which have become temporarily unavailable. These new nylon grades are derived from castor oil.
Another supplier, Arkema, makes a nylon-11 which is also derived from castor oil, and may make an acceptable substitute for nylon-12. It was mentioned in a Design News article last year.
While the exposion in Germany was tragic, it will be interesting to see whether it leads to greater use of sustainable materials.
Rob, the presence of plant matter alone does not make a plastic biodegradable or compostable. That's an unfortunate, and common, misunderstanding, because it makes it seem like we're a lot closer than we are to such goals. The vast majority of bio-plastics right now have been designed to be drop-in replacements for petro-based ones, and are usually blended with them, as is this one. The result is not biodegradable or compostable unless it's designed to be so. (This one, also, is not a vinyl compound, but an elasticizer that mixes with vinyl to form that compound.) As Dave points out, the PVCs have not changed, only the additive that makes them flexible. The big deal here is getting rid of phthalates. EOL issues are an entirely different set of problems to solve.
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