ExxonMobil Developing Products, People

By: Jim Callari 27. April 2016



ExxonMobil made some headlines this week with the introduction of a new line of high-performance PEs for film. But the Houston-based chemical giant is also committed to drawing in the best and brightest next-generation polymer engineers to ensure the new-product pipeline continues to flow.


One such polymer newbie is Sarah Newby, who this December will graduate from Penn State University with dual degrees in materials science and Chinese. A native of Pittsburgh, Newby attended a PSU Career Fair in 2014 that culminated in a four-month paid internship that began last August at ExxonMobil’s Baytown Technology and Engineering Complex in Texas.


“I switched into the MatSE major during the summer of 2014,” said Sarah, who originally planned on becoming a lawyer.  “At the time of the career fair, I was just beginning to explore possible career paths. I was not yet aware that ExxonMobil had a Chemical Company, or that they hired materials scientists and engineers. Dr. R. Allen Kimel (MatSE Assistant Professor and Associate Head for Undergraduate Studies) met with an ExxonMobil representative and sent out an email to all undergraduate students that ExxonMobil was looking for MatSE students. I attended ExxonMobil’s pre-career fair information session in order to learn about ExxonMobil and to identify the ExxonMobil representative that expressed interest in MatSE majors.


“The information session peaked my interest in pursuing opportunities with ExxonMobil,” Sarah continued.  “At the session, I learned more about ExxonMobil internships and career paths. Through the presentation, it became clear that ExxonMobil values each and every employee and strives to bring out everyone’s potential. In addition, each ExxonMobil representative introduced themselves and their role at ExxonMobil, and I began to understand that the career paths at ExxonMobil are unique to each individual.


“Later in that week, I attended the career fair, and ExxonMobil was my first stop. I arrived early, and a short line was just beginning to form. I approached a representative…and was very fortunate to land an interview.”


Sarah recalls being one of six students at BTEC. “The five other students were studying Chemical Engineering at various universities, including Georgia Tech, University of Illinois, Clarkson University and University of Wisconsin. I was the sole MatSE student. I’m not certain of the details of their projects, but I do know that I was the only student working in Polymers Technology during fall 2015


We also interacted with interns outside of BTEC. The Baytown location has internship positions at the refinery, at the chemical plant and in manufacturing. The intern social and volunteer day involved all of the about 20-25 interns working in Baytown.”


At BTEC, Sarah was assigned two high-priority projects and one additional project for times when she was waiting on samples or test results. She elaborates: “The first high priority project centered identifying similarities and differences in PE resin produced from two different reactor sites. The second high priority project was a lab-scale blending study of PE with a target polymer to identify blends that produce defect-free film. The additional project was a data mining project where I identified trends in PE quality control data from ExxonMobil’s plastics plants. My schedule included making progress on my projects, meeting with my team leads and mentors to brainstorm and discuss next steps, and attending networking events.”


Her Chinese major came in handy too. “In the spring semester of 2013, I won a Critical Language Scholarship to study Mandarin in China, fully funded by the U.S. Department of Defense for eight weeks during the summer of 2013. I studied at Xiamen University in Xiamen, China.


Sarah explains: “In the spring 2013 semester I completed my initial goal—the Chinese minor. When I returned from studying Mandarin in China, I decided to keep taking language courses, and that led to the dual degree in Chinese. Chinese is a subject that I was motivated to continue studying simply because I enjoy it. Even though the language courses are very time intensive, I found that my overall happiness was greater during the semesters that I took a language class.


“During my internship with ExxonMobil, I realized that my MatSE and Chinese major combination complement each other. The demand for plastics products in rapidly developing countries, such as China, continues to grow. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I dream about finding a career that requires extended travel in China.”


Learn more about Sarah’s experience here.

Petoskey Plastics Launches Recycling Scorecard for Blown Film

By: Heather Caliendo 26. April 2016

Petoskey Plastics, Petoskey, Michigan, has introduced a recycling scorecard for customers that purchase products made with its recycled blown plastic film.


Working with sustainability consultants, Petoskey has developed a system of calculating the impact its closed-loop recycling partners are having on the environment. The company is measuring and providing documentation, free of charge, to their customers on landfill diversion, carbon footprint equivalents, emission offsets and water savings. The data is based on the level of recycled content supplied within film and bags purchased from Petoskey.


“The program is a first for the blown plastic film industry,” said Jason Keiswetter, Petoskey Plastics executive director of marketing, research & development. “Sustainability scorecards are not new, but they are typically more focused on internal sustainability practices such as recycling or energy saving measures. This is the first robust, proactive effort we have seen that is specifically targeted at customers purchasing products with recycled content. Moreover, the reporting highlights their involvement in a closed loop recycling program.” Petoskey is offering the program to its recycling partners in retail, distribution, shipping, automotive and other sectors.


The scorecard is based on a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) approach to measuring sustainable practices. Typically, LCA measures energy use, raw materials consumption, air emissions, water effluents and solid wastes along the entire life cycle of a production system – from the initial extraction of natural resources to the final disposal of wastes. The company says its scorecard is unique in that it calculates pounds of carbon emissions saved in purchasing plastic film products with post-consumer recycled content (PCR).


In one scorecard example, a major retail chain saved close to 6 million pounds of CO2 entering the atmosphere through its partnership in Petoskey’s closed-loop recycling program. The scorecard also includes information on what that figure represents in real terms. In this case, over 91,000 gallons of water saved and the equivalent of over 36.6 million miles not driven by vehicles with internal combustion engines – which in turn translates to over 4,000 barrels of oil, or 195,000 gallons of gas not consumed.


“This new scorecard gives our customers and closed-loop partners the advantage of evaluating the actual impact of their purchasing and sustainability efforts, and communicating them in a way that investors, employees and their own customers can easily understand,” Keiswetter said. “Making a commitment to sustainable practices requires an investment, and this provides a quantitative evaluation of the return on that investment to the environment.”


First PC/ABS Production from Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic Underway

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 26. April 2016

My colleagues alerted me last week to the news that what appears to be the world’s first production of post-consumer PC/ABS pellets from shredded waste electrical and electronics equipment (WEEE) is now underway. I took one look and saw it was durable goods recycling and technology company MBA Polymers and company founder Mike Biddle immediately came to mind as twice I’ve been fortunate to hear him speak within the last three years at SPE’s Global Plastics Environmental Conference (GPEC).


Biddle launched MBA Polymers in 1994 in Richmond, Calif. with a vision of being the first company to automate plastics recycling from very complex waste containing materials such as metals, glass, and various plastics, and on a large scale. He and his team of chemical, mechanical, electrical and mining engineers developed a separation process—for which there is a mix of different patents--of an energy-efficient, cost-effective way of extracting plastics from complex waste streams. MBA’s proprietary processes are said to use less than 20% of the energy needed to product standard virgin resins. The company is now recognized as the world’s leading multi-national pioneer in recovering plastics from complex waste streams like computers, electronic appliances, automobiles, and household wastes.


In mid-2013, the company closed its pilot-scale facility in Richmond and moved its R&D and headquarters to its 126,000-sq.ft. facility in Workshop, England. At the 2014 GPEC event I attended, Biddle said the move was made because Europe does more recycling and offers more R&D opportunities, at least in the near term. While the U.K. plant is reportedly the world’s largest and most advanced facility for recovering plastics and rubber from automotive shredder residue, MBA’s plants in Austria and China have been focused on WEEE since 2006.


It is MBA’s Kematen, Austria facility that just began to produce post-consumer PC/ABS from WEEE, for which excellent mechanical properties are claimed, with production expected to steadily build up through the year. It will be distributed under the tradename EvoSource. and aimed at automotive, electrical and consumer electronics applications. In electronics, for example, designers will be able to specify EvoSource PC/ABS to increase the use of post-consumer recycled plastics in order to achieve the higher ratings required by the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment tool (EPEAT).


Said MBA Polymers CEO Richard McCombs, “The decision to develop PC/ABS products reflects our determination to meet the growing demand from customers for post-consumer recycled plastic as well as extending our commitment to sustainable growth. Every 1% increase in the usage of our waste benefits our return on investment enormously. MBA is unique in being able to extract the degree of value that we are achieving today from WEEE.”


As for Mike Biddle, he remains a non-executive director of MBA Polymers. Last year, he started up San Francisco Bay area Material Solutions, an organization that aims to help other “clean-tech entrepreneurs” shorten their path to developing their businesses. The company also consults with a wide variety of companies, organizations and communities around the world to capture material benefits from putting “circular economy” principles to work—including turning waste into resources and designing more favored new products with sustainable supply chains.


Search for more recycled resins in PT’s materials database.



30 Editions On, Chinaplas Continues to Grow

By: Tony Deligio 24. April 2016

Launched only five years after China’s 1978 Open-Door Policy reintroduced the country to the global economy, Chinaplas and the Chinese plastics industry have shared a meteoric rise over the last three decades.


Born in 1983 but celebrating its 30th birthday in 2016 thanks to a short-lived 18-month show cycle when it first started, Chinaplas kicked offed its 30th edition celebration in Shanghai with song, cupcakes and a look back and forward from Stanley Chu, chairman of show organizer, Adsale.


In 1983 in Beijing, where the show formerly rotated to in non-Shanghai years, roughly 100 non-Chinese exhibitors showed their wares to the newly forming plastics industry over a couple thousand square meters. In 2016 in Shanghai, 3323 exhibitors covering more than 240,000-m2 will welcome more than 140,000 visitors, roughly 30% of whom come from outside China, to Shanghai.


Certain areas in the Chinese economy might have slowed in recent years, but Chinaplas is not among them, with 2016 exhibitors up 4% over 2015. Cause for celebration in an economy that is contracting in some areas for the first time in a long time and Adsale did at the April 23 Media Day event, rolling out cupcakes and coaxing the assembled trade press in a rendition of Happy Birthday to the now 30-yr-old show.


Going Forward
In addition to being a time for reflection on the past, birthdays represent an opportunity to think about the future, and Chu admitted the show’s growth, and the opening of a new exhibition center in Shanghai, are giving Adsale something to think about going forward.


Completely filling the Shanghai New International Exhibition Center’s indoor facilities, Chinaplas 2016 will once again turn to temporary tents and stands within the exhibition center’s courtyard, with 40,000-m2 of exhibitors in tents outside the brick-and-mortar halls, while an additional 30,000-m2 of booths languish on a waiting list to get in.


The new exhibition facility, on the other hand, would offer Chinaplas 500,000-m2 of space—400,000 indoor and 100,000 outdoors. Chu, however, noted that the new two-floor center is not purposefully built to display machine and poses some possible logistics challenges. Despite that, he added that Adsale will “keep monitoring the situation, evaluating alternatives in light of the best interests of the exhibitors and the visitors.”


In 2017, Chinaplas returns to its same venue in Guangzhou. In 2018…? “We will evaluate all the options and consider what to do in 2018,” Chu said. “It’s still open.”  (pictured below, Stanley Chu and Ada Leung of Adsale, marking Chinaplas's 30th birthday.)

Stanley Chu, Ada Leung, Adsale

The Future of Biopolymers Looks Bright

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 20. April 2016

NatureWorks’s 2016 conference showed that innovation in biopolymer technology will continue to thrive.


Despite some pundits who opined that low oil prices would stop growth in biopolymers in its tracks, it appears that this has not come to fruition.


In fact, biopolymers are already playing a broader role in the industry: as base materials, as blends/alloys, as specialty additives, and as 3D printing filaments. This just one of the many things I learned by attending the 5th edition of Innovation Takes Root (ITR) in Orlando, Fla., a three-day event sponsored by manufacturer of Ingeo PLA NatureWorlks LLC, Minnetonka, Minn.  


Global Ingeo PLA channel partners from the entire bioplastic value chain came together to learn more about the innovations emerging in a host of markets—from 3D printing to flexible and rigid packaging to durable goods. PLA is a bioplastic made up of long molecular chains of the polymer polylactide derived from naturally-occurring plant sugars, at least so far.


But change and innovation are underway for PLA, and its feedstocks, and biopolymers in general. Take for instance two key announcements that were made right around the time of this conference:


• NatureWorks opened a $1-million, 8,300-sq.ft. laboratory at its world headquarters. The new lab represents the latest milestone in a multi-year program to commercialize a fermentation process for transforming methane—a potent greenhouse gas, into the PLA building block lactic acid. The methane-to-lactic acid research began in 2013 as a joint effort between NatureWorks and Calysta Energy, Menlo Park, Calif., to develop a fermentation biocatalyst.


In 2014, laboratory-scale fermentation of lactic acid from methane utilizing a new biocatalyst was proven, and the U.S. Department of Energy awarded $2.5 million to the project. The lab’s opening represents a major step toward commercial reality.


The aim is to have a pilot plant in place within a three-to-six year time frame. Commercial success of this technology would diversify NatureWorks away from reliance on agricultural feedstocks, and with methane as feedstock, it could structurally lower the cost of producing Ingeo. The company envisions a future where greenhouse gas is transformed into Ingeo-based products ranging from compostable food serviceware, to film for wrapping fresh produce and deli packaging, to durable products such as computer cases and filaments for 3D printers.


Metabolix, Cambridge, Mass., has signed a memorandum of understanding with Korea’s CJ Cheiljedang Corp. (CJ) for a strategic commercial manufacturing arrangement for specialty PHAs, including its newly launched amorphous PHA (a-PHA)—for use as performance additives in PLA and PVC. Which brings its vision for large-scale PHA production that much closer.


Under the agreement, CJ will fund, construct and operate a 20-million/lb PHA production unit at its Fort Dodge, Iowa facility, based on Metabolix’s PHA technology. The facility is operated by CJ’s division CJ BIO, a world leader in microbial fermentation based R&D and manufacturing for a range of amino acids, including lysine, as well as nucleotides. Production startup is anticipated within the next 18-24 months. In turn, Metabolix will buy the specialty PHAs produced at the facility, and market and sell the material to its commercial customers. The team also expects to define a framework for longer-term expansion of the collaboration for larger-scale PHA production and related commercial activities.


The conference was concluded with a terrific presentation by NatureWorks’ president & CEO Marc Verbruggen (pictured below). Among the key takeways:


• Achieving sufficient economy of scale has been a critical factor.


• Diversifying product mix and markets has been key. By 2015, Ingeo PLA markets included food service wear, films, fibers, rigid packaging, durable goods, and performance chemicals.


• During oil drop-off, Ingeo sales increased in five of the company’s six businesses.


• A key goal is to develop a one-step process of turning “greenhouse gas” into PLA, which would significantly reduce feedstock costs.


• New multifunctional barrier structures allow the rethinking of flexible multilayer structures—with some packaging moving from fossil-based three-film structures to 100% biobased two-film structures.


• New advanced PLA injection molding compounds and alloys will be positioned as a functional alternative to ABS in durable applications.


Search for more of NatureWorks Ingeo PLA and Metabolix’s PHA biopolymers on PT’s materials database.

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