Bill Gates Invests in Low-Carbon Plastics

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 23. September 2016


Pioneer for the conversion of biomass into cellulosic sugar technology can now start to move from lab into commercial use.


Earlier this year, startup Renmatix, Philadephia, a leading licensor for the conversion of biomass into cellulosic sugar and a commercial partner of NewBio, patented its Plantrose Process that can lead to cost-effective production  of industrial sugars on a commercial scale as an alternative to petroleum-based polymers in a range of industrial  processes. (Led by Penn State University, NewBio is a regional network of universities, businesses, and government organizations dedicated to building robust, scalable, and sustainable value chains for biomass energy in the Northeast.)


Now, Renmatix has secured a $14-million investment from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, which will allow it to begin the technology’s transition from the lab to industrial use. Before the U.N.’s Paris climate talks earlier this year, Gates corralled 28 high-profile investors to form the Breakthrough Energy Coalition and committed them to invest in low-carbon energy innovation to save the planet.


Said Gates, “To effectively address climate change, we need to develop an energy infrastructure that doesn’t emit greenhouse gas and is cost competitive. A critical component in this effort must be to decarbonize the industrial sector. Another is the possibility of cost-competitive biofuels. Renmatix provides and innovative process that is an exciting pathway to pursue.”


Menwhile, Belgium’s Total (U.S office in Houston), a global energy and back-integrated polyolefins and PS conglomerate, joined Gates in expanding its initial 2015 investment in Renmatix by signing a licensing agreement with the company for 1-million tons (2-billion/lbs) of annual cellulosic sugar production capacity, at Total’s discretion to build corresponding facilities.


The license represents significant revenue potential for Renmatix, extending over the agreement’s lifetime. “Our ambition is to become the responsible energy major. We want to make low-carbon businesses a profitable growth driver accounting for 20% of our portfolio in 20 years’ time. Meeting these goals in what has led to setting-up and expanding our collaboration with Renmatix,” Total Chairman and CEO Patrick Pouyanne said.


Renmatix’s Plantrose process uses supercritical water to reduce costs in conversion of biomass to cellulosic sugars, the critical intermediary for second-generation biochemical and biofuels. With faster reactions and virtually no associated consumable-expenses, Renmatix’s supercritical hydrolysis is said to economically enable a multitude of renewable process technologies and help access the market for ‘high-volume, low-cost, broadly-sourced’ cellulosic sugars. From this industrial sugars’ foundation, the company is expanding its product portfolio with additional bio-building block intermediates, including Omno polymers and crystalline cellulose.


The new investment in commercializing Plantrose is expected to help in the drive towards the first wave of Renmatix licensees building Plantrose-enabled biorefineries in diverse global markets like Canada, India, Malaysia, the U.S. and elsewhere. In parallel, such activity will facilitate further market development in downstream bioproduct applications. Renmatix CEO Mike Hamilton:


“This investment from Gates and Total together shows recognition of our technological achievements, and magnifies our commercial momentum. That acknowledgement and Total’s signing of the million-ton license are compelling indicators of our Plantrose technology’s maturation toward biorefinery scale.” 

City in Iraq Opens its First Recycling, Production Plant

By: Heather Caliendo 22. September 2016

Iraq, with a population of 34.3 million, is estimated to produce 31,000 tons of solid waste every day while the capacity to collect this waste is 4,000 tons per day.


That substantial discrepancy between trash and the capacity to manage it, courtesy the World Health Organization. In fact, the current operational and technical management capacity of disposing solid waste in Iraq is estimated at just about 25% of the country’s needs.


So clearly this is a large gap that needs filled and it looks like at least one city is working to solve this problem. According to an article on NRT, a Kurdish language news television network in Iraq, the city of Basra— Iraq’s main port—has installed a $15 million new plastics facility, and while the facility will look to produce a wide variety of plastic goods, it also includes the city’s first recycling production line.  In the report, Ali Chasib, Head of the Basra Investment Commission, says:


"The facility produces all types of PVC products including rubbish bags, medical plastic bags, plastic pipes and plastic sheeting used in agriculture and greenhouses. The project is an ISO-registered company and has a high production capacity of all its production lines, which makes it a strong competitor that can meet the demands of the province and might even cover the demands of other provinces.”


The facility is 4,000 square meters (43, 055 square feet) and has four production lines. It can produce up to 25,000 tons of plastic products for agricultural and industrial purposes and up to 10,000 tons of oil and sewage pipes of different sizes and diameters per year, NRT wrote.


Iraq's government released a five-year economic plan in 2013 with a goal to diversify beyond oil production as well as develop the country's industrial sector. (Photo courtesy Basra Investment Commission)


Smart Tool, Electric Tool

By: Matthew H. Naitove 20. September 2016

The old gray mold ain’t what she used to be. Or won’t be for long, if recent trends hold up.


Those trends will be evident to some extent at next month’s K 2016 show in Dusseldorf, so if you’re going, you can judge for yourself.


Trend 1: Mold with a Brain
As detailed in our K Show preview last month, one of the more prominent trends at the show will be the industry-wide evolution (more consciously in Europe than here) toward the “smart factory” of self-directed, interconnected machines, known under the rubric “Industry 4.0.”


The problem is that, while injection machines and auxiliaries have been getting smarter and smarter, one fundamental part of the process remains “dumb”—the mold. That’s dumb in two senses—it doesn’t think and it doesn’t talk or communicate.


Milacron in Cincinnati has been working on a multi-year project to do something about this. The result, exhibited at K, is Smart Mold, a metal box (photo below) that attaches to a tool equipped with cavity sensors. The box contains software to extract and communicate data from those sensors via web server and OPC-UA server, as well as logic and storage capacity to save setup recipes for the entire cell that works around that mold, as well as preventive maintenance routines, engineering change records, etc.



Think of that—a mold that can tell the injection press, auxiliary injector (for two-shot molding), hot-runner system, robot, chiller, etc. what settings to implement so the mold can do its job. (For more on Smart Mold, see the results of an exclusive interview in October’s Starting Up.)


Trend 2: Going Electric
The October story notes that Milacron will be introducing another new product, as yet unnamed, that controls six servo axes on the mold—valve gates, top and bottom stripper plates, and two rotary axes such as a spin stack or rotary table and an index plate. Milacron is only one of a handful of companies that seek to replace hydraulic tooling functions with electric servos and/or stepper motors, which are clean, compact, fast, and more affordable than ever.


In an October Close Up, I report on my visit this summer to NyproMold in Clinton, Mass., which has pioneered high-cavitation unscrewing molds with electric “continuous cam” action in place of the cumbersome rack-and-pinion mechanisms of the past (photo below).



There’s also the Altanium servo control from Husky Injection Molding Systems, Bolton, Ont., a fairly new module (shown at NPE2015) for its hot-runner controller that controls servo axes in the mold—valve gates, collapsible cores, slides, unscrewing, stack rotation, and coining motions. Husky will exhibit at K, too.


And as far back as K 2010, Hasco of Germany (U.S. office in Fletcher, N.C.) showed off an all-electric mold with servos controlling every action in the tool. Hasco also will show off its latest at K.

Finnish Startup Gets In-Mold Structural Electronics (IMSE) Lighting Patent

20. September 2016


TactoTek’s newly-patented technology available for licensing.


An interesting technology from a Finnish startup that has a unique method for integrating printed electronics such as circuitry, touch controls and antennas, as well as discrete electronic components such as LEDs, into injection molded plastics has been issued a U.S. patent (9297675). Applications for the so-called “illuminated indicator structures for electronic devices” include automotive, home appliances, wearables and health care.


The new technology from TactoTek, based in Oulu, Finland (U.S. office in Cupertino, Calif.) reportedly enables sophisticated lighting in very thin 3D plastic ‘smart surfaces’. “This patent recognizes a key innovation for injection molded structural electronics (IMSE) technology—employing the plastic material that is the structure of a part as a light guide. Using this technique, we can create very bright, evenly distributed illumination within structures as thin as 2-millimeters (0.079 in.),” according to CTO and co-founder Antti Keranen.


For illumination, TactoTek’s IMSE technology consolidates printed electronics and LEDs within the 3D molded plastic part and uses the plastics themselves to conduct light. This, in contrast with traditional electronics designs, which typically include a cosmetic surface structure and use a separate light pipe structure to direct lighting to the surface from a flat, rigid printed circuit board (PCB).



TactoTek’s approach of using the molded cosmetic surface as a light guide removes design constraints that had previously prescribed thick, multi-part assemblies, explains head of product management Hasse Sinivaara. “As we remove parts, we remove design time, weight and minimize electrical and mechanical assembly—very appealing when considering form factor innovation and total cost of ownership.”


TactoTek’s patented and patent-pending technologies integrate a mixture of well-known production technologies into a unique approach that enables mass production of 3D structural electronics. These include flexible circuit printing, surface-mounting electronic components, thermoforming, in-mold labeling (IML), and injection molding.


The approach starts with an IML material. Decoration, if desired, is printed, followed by conductive circuitry, and in some designs, printed touch controls and printed antennas. Electronic components are mounted using standard high-speed pick-and-place machinery. Electronics can be as simple as LEDs or as complex as microprocessors and are affixed to the IML using specialized adhesives able to withstand the temperature and pressure of injection molding. With electronics in place, the IML carrier is used as an insert for injection molding.


According to senior v.p. of marketing Dave Rice, the company uses a range of plastics that are standard for high-pressure, high-temperature injection molding, including: PC, ABS, and acrylic for rigid structures; TPU and hybrids, e.g., TPU/silicone for flexible structures.


Here is Rice’s answer when I asked if the company plans to license its newly-patented technology:  “Our core business model is to help customers adapt their traditional electronics designs to TaktoTek IMSE technology and, develop mass production ready prototypes. For mass production, in some cases, we will manufacture parts ourselves; in most cases, we will license our technology and train a third party—typically an established Tier 1 supplier, to mass produce those parts.”


The Verdict Is In: Brand Owners Want Recycled PP

By: Heather Caliendo 14. September 2016

The Association of Postconsumer Recyclers surveyed 21 consumer brand companies regarding the potential for PCR PP.


Recycled PP could become a hot commodity. That’s according to a recent survey from the Association of Postconsumer Recyclers, which stated that demand for recycled polypropylene (PP) by major consumer brand companies is approaching 300 million pounds annually. The 21 major consumer brand companies who responded also provided quality and quantity information for potential PP PCR use in non-food contact applications. These companies alone identified demand of more than 280 million pounds of the recycled resin annually.


The study was an effort to identify market demand for PCR PP in the current market climate. “We recognize the combination of factors impacting the current market for recyclables, however consumer brand companies specifically outlined potential demand for this material. The challenge remains providing recyclers the feedstock to meet that demand,” commented Liz Bedard, APR’s Rigid Plastics Recycling Program Director.


All respondents’ demand is current or within the next three years. The survey also provides information on qualitative PCR components such as melt flow index, odor, color and demand timeframe.


“APR’s two main goals are to increase supply and enhance the quality of the plastics recycling stream,” said J. Scott Saunders, general manager of KW Plastics and chairman of APR. “Through work to achieve those goals, The APR Rigids Plastics Recycling Program and the Polypropylene Market Development Subcommittee have become one of the primary drivers to move the marketplace forward through stimulating growth and increasing availability and use of polypropylene PCR.”


Applications for polypropylene PCR include tubes, rigid packaging, closures, containers, pails, crates, disposable cutlery, pallets, hangers and tubs. Full survey results are available on the APR website.


Julie Zaniewski, packaging sustainability manager at Unilever, participated in the survey and provided her company’s perspective. “Unilever recognizes that recycling is one of the most effective ways to sustain the environment. As part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we are committed to increasing recycling rates and improving the availability of postconsumer materials, such as polypropylene. Recycled polypropylene is an important material with massive opportunity in a circular economy. Working in partnership with industry, we aim to increase the recycling of polypropylene and increase the recycled material content in our packaging to maximum possible levels, catalyzing the industry and further reducing our impact on the environment.” 


The topic of PP PCR has come up quite a bit in some of the various conferences I’ve attended this year (The Recycling Conference, ReFocus).


For instance, during The Recycling Conference, Steve Sikra, materials science and technology manager at Procter & Gamble, said brand owners do indeed want to use recycled PP. Currently, P&G uses about 550,000 tons of virgin PP /yr, but looks to incorporate more recycled PP. By 2020, the company plans to double the use of post-consumer recycled content in plastic packaging.


“Let’s face it, pricing is always a challenge for us, but so is doing the right thing,” he said. “P&G has publically stated these goals and we are going to do that. The drive to use PCR is very real, and specifically in PP, there are a lot of potential applications.”


And while this study focused on potential PP PCR use in non-food contact applications, the food contact applications is also of interest to brands. For instance, I talked extensively with Monique Oxender, Keurig’s chief sustainability officer, regarding the company’s shift to PP. She mentioned the following:


 “In terms of recyclability, we also considered what really drives recovery. And we found it’s the value of the material. There has to be a healthy economic equation across the value chain in order for the material to be recovered. When we looked at the outlook for PP, we saw it is very strong, and there are folks that want that material. The demand for post-consumer reclaim PP is on the rise. In fact, demand seems to be outstripping supply.” 


Ed. Note: Additive suppliers are taking note as well, witness this product introduction.


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