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.” 

BOPET Films' Growth Prospects Look Very Good

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 14. September 2016

Market demand to be driven by significant use in both packaging and technical applications.


Biaxially-oriented PET film (BOPET) appears to have become one of the fastest growing polymer substrates, with demand expected to be over 8 billion lb in 2016, a growth of over 2 billion lb since 2010. This, according to a new report, BOPET Films—the global market 2016, by Bristol, U.K.-based AMI Consulting.


Check too our September issue’s feature K 2016 Preview: Extrusion and Compounding, and a recent blog on “biobased” BOPET film for solar-control-windows.


Driving this impressive growth is BOPET film’s extensive use in both packaging and technical applications due to its novel combinations of properties, excellent processability, as well as adhesion to coatings and adhesives. The report points out, however, how volatile this market has been, noting the rapid demise of BOPET-based magnetic tapes for music and video cassettes after the development of CD—an example of applications that come and go.


Yet, the AMI Consulting report discusses emerging applications such as photovoltaics—the fastest one, with a whopping 29%/yr growth since 2010, driven by an increased demand for renewable energy sources often supported by government initiatives. Another: display and optical films, which have seen double-digit growth by expanding sales of smart phone, tablets and flat screen TVs.


Moreover, in terms of absolute growth, packaging has grown the most, which AMI says is most evident in emerging markets, particularly in China and India. On the other hand, the AMI consultants note that the increasingly competitive and commodity nature of traditional packaging film markets is driving film processors to seek added value opportunities through either diversification into thick films, technical applications or investment in secondary processing such as metallization or offline coating.  The report indicates that new investments are more and more in hybrid lines capable of making a range of films that cut across the traditional supply divisions between thin films (<50 micron; 0.002 in.) and thick films (50-350 micron;0.002-0.014 in.) as companies look to diverse their portfolio.


It appears that in the 2010-11 time frame, there was strong growth in BOPET demand, which led to tight supply and relatively high margins; thus a boom in investment in the BOPET business. Over the last several years, this led to an explosion of new capacity, with some 4.8 billion lb installed since 2010. While global capacity was boosted by over 70%, demand only increased by half that rate, which has led to significant oversupply.


AMI notes that this “oversupply scenario”, combined with the falling crude oil prices, resulted in weak pricing and poor margins, making the operating environment for BOPET film processors increasingly challenging. “Much of this new added capacity has derived from high productivity low-cost operations with a focus on flexible packaging applications…This has put pressure on heritage businesses with older and less efficient assets particularly for the production of low-cost commodity grades in developed markets of North America, Europe, and North East Asia,” said AMI Consulting senior market analyst Marta Babits. The industry has seen many of these companies shifting their focus on specialized technologies and high-end value applications. At the same time, some, such as DuPont Teijin, have opted to shutter obsolete plants as part of cost-cutting measures.


The report characterizes this industry as becoming increasingly fragmented driven by new players entering the market in recent years. The top ten producers accounted for over 60% of the total production 10 years ago and less than 50% today while there are many more manufacturers holding smaller market shares. The largest producers worldwide include DuPont Teijin Films, Flex Films, Jiangsu Shuangxing Color Plastic New Materials, Mitsubishi Polyester Film, SKC Films, and Toray Films.


The BOPET demand forecast from AMI Consulting is for 10-billion lb by 2020, a CAGR of 6% from 2015-2020, but growth in some developing countries will be well above the average. “The industry will continue to bring value-added opportunities but to maintain market power, industry players need to anticipate change and formulate response strategies quickly and direct R&D investment accordingly,” Babits said.


Science Shows How Colors Affect Us

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 12. September 2016

Take a look at our September special supplement “Do You Do Color Right?”, and do explore on color science and so much more.


Okay, okay! So, editors tend to be among the population of nerds, those of us in the trade press perhaps even more (and plastics and composites reporters in particular). But, as a listener of podcasts while I take lengthy walks on Connecticut shores or while working out, I can tell you that I’m always learning something.


Sometimes I’m disappointed, but more often than not, I’m ecstatic and end up looking for further information on a particular issue or topic. In the spirit of ‘peace’, and I am a peaceful person, I will not mention politics. However, it is through a couple of interesting podcasts that address politics and science that I heard about


Okay…so they are not free (some are pretty costly), but not much is these days. But you might want to check out “How Colors Affect You: What Science Reveals”. It’s a $27.95 video download with six lectures delivered by design expert and University of Houston Professor William Lidwell who explores:


  • The history, science, and cultural importance of the six universal colors
  • How our brains have evolved to respond to colors without our conscious awareness
  • The key experiments that have shaped our understanding of how colors work
  • Ways to more effectively apply the science of color to achieve your personal or professional goals for a space.


The course will reportedly open your eyes to why your favorite products practically jump off the shelf; why certain logs are more memorable than others; why particular scenes in nature evoke peace, joy, or fear; and much more.


PT, released this month a supplement, “Do You Do Color Right?” Check out the column introducing it by my colleague, editorial director and assistant publisher Jim Callari. He starts it with: Color. Is it art? Science? Some of both?


Just last week, I blogged about the BASF Color Excellence Group and how they strived to come up with 2020 automotive colors by global region. I think I’d love that job as they travel to-and-from to come up with their ‘scientific’ predictions.


So, back to color course. It appears that scientists are uncovering secrets on how colors, beyond aesthetics, work on our eyes and our brain…how they influence the way we think, feel, and behave—often without our conscious awareness. The course description describes this as an exciting time in the scientific study of how colors affect us. It points out that knowing how colors affect us informs how we tap into their powers to create environments and achieve a breathtaking range of visual goals. Moreover, it lets us strike down popular myths and misconceptions about color that can easily lead businesses and companies to make costly mistakes.  Here are some examples:


• Black uniforms tend to increase aggression and intimidation in conflict situations.


• Red ties can give you an edge in confrontational negotiations, while blue ties can express a desire to collaborate.


• Fire trucks increasingly are painted yellow because that’s the color most visible to our eyes.


• Aligning the right colors to products, brands, and ads can make or break a business’s success.


• Pink rooms will not calm aggressive prisoners or sap the strength of opposing teams.


• Yellow walls in the nursery will not cause babies to cry more often.


• Blue tableware of kitchen walls will not suppress your appetite (although food that’s dyed blue certainly will).


Graphite-Filled PP Combines Flexibility and Conductivity

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 9. September 2016

This new approach boosts mechanical properties while maintaining electrical conductivity.


Germany’s Institute of Plastics Processing (IKV), along with Skilled Crafts at RWTH Aachen University, has been developing a new approach for the production of graphite-filled PP compounds, which thus far, appear to combine flexibility with high electrical conductivity.


The researchers claim the new, highly-filled thermoplastic compound boasts significant advantages over currently used materials, including reduced brittleness, longer service life in the fuel cell, and low reject rates.


The research project’s goal is to improve the compound’s mechanical properties compared to existing materials while maintaining the same electrical conductivity. Researchers first produced a blend of PP and an elastomer in order to boost the matrix material’s elasticity, and then incorporated a mixture of selected, electrically-conductive graphite fillers.


The researchers aimed to keep the filler content as low as possible while ensuring the necessary electrical conductivity for the particular applications. They demonstrated the potential usability of the new compounds by producing bipolar plates for fuel cells.


Together with various project partners, IKV is moving on with the development of a process in which the conductive part of the bipolar plate is compression molded from the highly-filled compounds, then overmolded by injection molding, and finally joined to form a composite part.


They stress that it is important that the bipolar plates be welded securely to one another to ensure that they are gas-tight, and also that process reliability and high efficiency are ensured. This joining technology is being systematically developed at IKV. The composite material is subsequently tested in the fuel cell under conditions likely to be encountered in practice.


This joint project is financed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) over a period of years. The other partners are Allod Werkstoff, Burgbenheim, Calorplast Warmetechnik, Krefeld, Eisenhuth, Osterode am Harz, Kessen Maschinebau, Essen bei Oldenburg, Leibniz Institute for Polymer Research, Dresden, and Protech in Pfullingen.


Automotive Color Predictions for 2020

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 7. September 2016

BASF’s Color Excellence Team comes up with head-turning colors by region.


There are those who feel that the color of your car is every bit as important as what’s under the hood, and BASF’s Color Excellence Group are definitely among them. The Color Excellence team, comprised of chemists, industrial designers and artists, have once again collaborated to come up with automotive color predictions for 2020.


The team points out that automotive design is a well-documented process. However, they question how auto manufacturers choose the car colors that are going to undoubtedly attract that next wave of customers. How do suppliers ensure that not a single dollar is misspent, and that new buyers are excitedly torn over the options laid out in front of them when picturing that new Tesla in the driveway? The answer: By finding out what people want, and giving it to them!


“There is so much emotion and psychology attached to color, which makes it an ideal expression of one’s image of the outside world,” said head of design Paul Czorni at BASF North America. That emotional buying logic is precisely the reason why the Color Excellence team annually travels to every corner of the globe, deeply analyzing every observable trend, and leaving no stone unturned.


The results for 2020: Sixty-five original, highly-intuitive, head-turning colors, regionally separated to entice and excite those that stirred them, according to the team. Here are three top examples for three regions:


• North America—Raingarden

Heavily influenced by America’s entrepreneurial and unstoppable can-do attitude, Raingarden is a forceful metallic silver that portrays strength and a rock-solid foundation. It also rewards particularly keen observers, as it can appear blue or green depending on your vantage point.


• Asia—Deep Dive

To successfully balance Asia’s insatiable creativity and proud traditions, the Color Excellence Group selected Deep Dive, a lively blue green. And as Asia continues to expand economically, research shows a vast amount of buying power in its emerging middle class. The young, optimistic, and innovative are both the target and inspiration behind this color.


• Europe—ASMR Blue

The European trend is guided by the question “What comes after the hashtag”—the search for a way to adapt to the digital world without losing track of real experiences and identities. A major color direction for the automotive industry is represented by ASMR Blue. The artificial yet appealing blue works as the perfect connection between the physical and the upcoming virtual world.


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