What's the benefit of using this material ove Plexiglas--that it's more enviornmentally friendly? So if I understanding correctly, this gives a design engineer who might traditionally consider plexiglas or a like material for a particular application, a more eco-friendly alternative, all while keeping the properties that make plexiglas appealing in the first place?
Beth, the benefits are both sustainability gains and, of course, better customer relations if customers have been asking for more sustainable materials. Customers are, in fact, doing so, and not just end-consumers, but industrial customers, since many of them now have sustainability programs and goals to be met. This was a big theme at NPE2012, and something new in the industry. The industrial demand for bioplastics, and for recycled plastics, especially more durable ones, will make a big difference. So will the fact that many bioplastics--such as this one--have even better performance than the petro-based versions they replace.
Generally speaking, although bioplastics have been historically more expensive than their petro-based counterparts, that picture has begun to change in some cases, especially as petroleum prices skyrocket. The companies didn't provide specific details about materials price comparisons in this case. That said, the material's greater melt flow and lower processing temperature sound to me like the process itself may end up costing less.
Ann: I'm glad you mentioned the origins of this products competition. While not all impact resistant products such as these are petro-base, a great number of them are. It's always good to limit the use of expensive/limited resources wherever possible. According to this article: http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/plastic-to-oil-fantastic/ roughly 7% of the world's oil production is used to make plastics. If this is true, promoting eco-friendly alternatives should certainly be enforced.
Ann: I'm currently reporting a feature for the June issue of Design News (stay tuned) on the challenges engineers face when designing for sustainability and one of the main drivers people are talking about is increasing customer demand. Whether it's lip service or not, customers are definitely jumping on the go-green bandwagon. Besides having the right information at their fingertips to make the right alternative materials choices, having a wide range of alternative materials to choose from that have the same or better properties and characteristics as compared with traditional options definitely makes the whole transition much easier.
This looks like a wonderful advance. I share Chuck's question about the cost implications. If this is more expensive than conventional materials, are consumers willing to pay a green premium? A portion of that car-buying population were willing to pay extra for a cleaner hybrid vehicle. Yet a good portion of that population didn't continue with a second hybrid, according to an article by Chuck.
Corporate competition being what it is, the non-green alternative often has a built-in cost advantage. It's always a struggle to get a large swath of the buying public to agree to pay a premium for being green, especially in a weak economy.
Good point, Chuck. It's the same principle behind Walmart's success. People understand the small mom and pop shops have quality and community advantages, but ultimately, they choose Walmart over their local mom and pop stores. Green products will truly succeed when cost is not a factor -- or much of a factor.
Rob, the buyers of this material are not consumers, but manufacturers. Although consumers have led the charge for buying green, it looks to me like industrial and corporate buyers may be starting to catch up with that trend, at least in terms of plastics and alternative materials. I saw Chuck's article, too, and that's very disappointing news. I agree with his comment about it currently being bad timing for buying anything that's got a premium attached. That said, corporate buyers now have sustainability programs and what I heard at NPE2012 was that plastics companies' customers want greener solutions.
Interesting points, Ann. There is a certain portion of the consumer market made up of people who are willing to pay a premium for green products. In the corporate world, I would imagine that would be a tad more complicated. Are you suggesting that part of a company's green initiative would allow the purchasing function to pay a premium for green products?
Rob, I'm not clear on what you mean. Many, if not most, companies now have sustainability goals, which include the materials they purchase. As I learned during reporting the bioplastics article, consumer demand to buy green products has led much of this change, and materials for single-use functions, like plastic water bottles, were developed before the more difficult to make durable/engineering plastics; which, coincidentally, were also harder to sell to, say, aerospace companies. Many consumers were, at least for a time, willing to pay more for sustainable products when corporate buyers were not. What I heard at NPE was that some corporate buyers in some cases might be more likely to consider a slight premium, but the bigger trend is that more sustainable materials cost the same or less, or cost the same but perform better.
Yes, that answers my question. I was wondering whether corporations were willing to pay a premium for sustainable materials (whether that included materials they consumed or materials they included in their products). Sounds like they don't have to if sustainable materials are meeting the price of non-sustainable materials.
Rob, glad that answers your question. I was surprised and heartened to hear that at least some industrial/commercial customers are now asking for green materials. Of course some of their products are bought by consumers, even if indirectly. Price parity is not here yet across the board but the first signs are there.
As price parity expands, there could be a massive change in the materials used in a wide range of goods. All things being even, why not buy green? I wonder how this prospect is affecting those companies producing traditional materials.
I think that's a good question. Actually, many of the companies making sustainable plastics, such as DuPont, BASF, SABIC and Dow, are already making traditional plastics and continue to do so. So far, though, the amount of sustainable plastics out there is only a drop in the bucket, as we covered in my April Bioplastics feature
That makes sense, Ann. Those making non-sustainable goods are those who would be best positioned to make sustainable products. They protect their own interests. Plus, their supply chain is in place. It's much like the large oil companies investing in the development of biofuels.
Yes, I think those two situations are parallel. This also explains why so much that has been developed so far are in the form of, more or less, engineering design and manufacturing drop-in replacements. Even the mushroom based packaging is designed to compete directly with Styrofoam, and, as we saw, the makers of Styrofoam are interested in it, too. This is a different situation from steel makers being challenged by composites. since the entire manufacturing and supply chain is quite different.
Your reference to steel is apt. That's one industry that can't easily adopt sustainable developments and simply add those developments to its existing supply chain. That also explains why steel is fighting so hard lately to prove its value.
Yes, I've seen the steel association pushing the value of strong lightweight steel. Their big push is that when you combine lightweight steel with the easy recycling of steel, you get a product that beats composites for birth-to-grave green. It's an interesting argument.
Sure, Ann. Last fall I did a story on the steel industry's effort to tout steel's relatively clean carbon footprint. The arguement is that steel is greener than many of the alternatives if you look at the entire lifecycle of the materials.
Thanks, Rob. Scanning this report makes me consider the complexities of LCA (lifecycle analysis), meaning, there are so many factors to consider for a single product that such analysis must get quite complicated. No wonder the practice, and even the concept, is still just getting off the ground, and only in some industries.
Rob, the Ricardo report at this link appears to be an assessment of the viability of vehicle CO2 lifecycle analyses, rather than an actual analysis. It claims that tailpipe analysis is not enough, and that "CO2 emissions resulting from the generation of the fuel, or those embedded within the vehicle production" should also be included. It then gives an exhaustive analysis of all the possible factors that can impact CO2 production, including fuel generation, design-for-disassembly, components sourcing, recycling and other EOL issues, and lots more. There is a notation toward the end that hybrids and EVs significantly decrease CO2 in use (=tailpipe analysis), but tend to increase emissions during production, compared to cars that run on petro-based fuel. However, there's no discussion in this report of how composites stack up against steel in an LCA. I'd be interested to see the steel industry's claims verified by a truly third-party independent analysis: they may well be right.
I would ask the same question: what about pricing? When several options are close to equal, price will get the nod most of the time. Some of the description was about how the new material was good, but none was about how it was GREAT! So there is then the question about price.
I would say in the past few years the idea of corporate sustainability has grown tremendously. This is evident across the board. Where the bottom line used to rule, it seems that companies are increasingly becoming conscious of the influence they have on the world and its resources - whether that is from shareholders, conscience, or Government tax breaks is probably debatable. In finance, Socially Responsible Investing (an investment strategy which considers both the financial and social benefits and implications of a company/stock) has grown considerably. In building construction, it seems that every new building I see seeks to be LEED certified.
That being said, I completely understand the argument that given the same properties and characteristics, people may have a hard time choosing this product over others if it costs more. The problem I see is that people want green systems more often than green components. What I mean is that it is hard to advertise that one small portion of your product is green if the rest is not. If design teams are not already being environmentally conscious throughout the entire product design process, many people may see no benefit to treat this individual product/component differently.
But don't get me wrong. It is great that products such as this are being manufactured. It hopefully shows where we are headed in design and as a society. As the concepts advance and mature, costs will come down.
A. Peeples, I've also noticed a big growth in sustainability efforts and programs at many companies. And I recently discovered socially responsible investing, which is a potentially powerful tool for making changes. I think you've got a great point about green at the system level vs at the component/material level. Which is exactly what LEEDS is all about for building construction. There have been efforts underway for some time to achieve something similar in electronics--such as The Green Grid Initiative for data centers and business computing systems--but with no solid results yet AFAIK. The amount of complexity here is, of course, insanely greater than in a building's construction.
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