Next-Generation Biodegradable Plastics Being Developed

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 8. June 2016

France’s Carbios expands its patent portfolio on controlled lifetime biodegradation of plastics.


The latest bad rap on biodegradable plastics comes from the UN’s top environmental scientist. Referring to such products as biodegradable water bottles and shopping bags, Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist at the UN’s Environment Programme, warned that they are a false solution to the ubiquitous problem of litter in the oceans.


Addressing last month’s UN environmental assembly in Nairobi, attended by 170 countries, she said: “It’s well-intentioned but wrong. A lot of plastics labelled biodegradable, like shopping bags, will only break down in temperatures of 50 C (122 F), and that is not the ocean. They are also not buoyant, so they’re going to sink, so they’re not going to be exposed to UV and break down.”


She sees the main solution to plastics in the ocean as better waste collection and recycling, particularly in the developing world. She also noted that some of the biodegradable additives currently used in plastics have made such plastics harder to recycle and are potentially harmful in the natural environment.


Perhaps next-generation biodegradable plastics with an improved controlled lifespan can help make a difference as well. France’s Carbios, a 5-year-old ‘green chemistry’ company, specializing in breakthrough technologies dedicated to the recovery of plastic waste, is working on that and envisions the first industrial demonstrations to take place next year. The company was just granted two key U.S. patents and has exercised the worldwide licensing options on these patent families.


These licenses concern two patent families for Carbios. The first is for the proprietary process of enzyme infusion in plastics for which patents have been granted in France and in the U.S. The second covers a PLA degrading strain for which requests haves also been granted in France, the rest of the EU, U.S., Mexico, China and Japan.


Carbios acquired these exclusive licenses in 2012 from the CNRS--the University of Poitiers and VALAGRO Carbone Renouvelable as part of the THANAPLAST academic/industrial collaborative R&D project, for which it is the lead manager. They enable the company to grant sub-licenses on its biodegradation process. To date, the company biodegradation technology is founded on nine patent families: three on biodiversity and six on the production process of biodegradable plastics. (Another eight patents protect the company’s processes for recycling of plastic waste and the production of biopolymers.)


Carbios expects its PLA biodegradable technology to expand the breadth of application for PLA. Demonstrated on a pre-industrial scale, the company’s now patented enzyme-based technology, which entails embedding an enzyme in a thermoplastic at the time of production, reportedly renders it fully biodegradable at ambient temperature.


For nearly 10 months, the company has been operating a new pilot plant at its Saint-Beauzire headquarters, which enables it to reproduce biodegradable plastic films. The plant houses several production modules, from plastics extrusion to conversion to flexible films or solid parts, as well as the characterization of all properties of the materials produced.


Search for more on biodegradable plastics in PT’s Materials  Database.


“Most Powerful Man in Polyethylene” Sees Flat-to-Downward Pricing

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 6. June 2016

Great to get an update from RTI’s Burns on PE and note his bringing home the gold medal from a world bench press championship.


I have made several industry friends through my years of reporting for Plastics Technology but none that ever won a gold medal until now! Mike Burns, v.p. of client services for PE at Resin Technology, Inc. (RTi) has been my go-to guy for PE market updates for several years.


I know some things about Mike’s family, his musical tastes (he’s crazy about “The Boss”), and that he takes good care of his body in terms of good food and running. But, it wasn’t until earlier this year that he told me about his weight lifting and the significant and constant training that he has put into it for three decades. And, we joked about his colleagues referring to him as “the most powerful man in PE”.


Well, two weeks ago at the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) World Bench Press Championships in Potchefstroom, South Africa, Mike grabbed the gold medal. The event was the first “raw” championship hosted by the IPF, whereby competitors were not allowed to use equipment such as bench compression shirts to assist in making their lifts.


Mike was part of the U.S. National men’s team which finished second to Japan in the 50-59 age group and won the overall gold medal for the championship. Mike bench-pressed 386 pounds on his final lift, beating the number-one ranked Nakazawa Tadafumi of Japan in the 205-pound class. My PT colleagues and I salute Mike for this terrific win, and will rally for him at next year’s event in Killeen, Texas, to which Tadafumi assured Mike through his translator he’ll be at.


Meanwhile, here are a couple of takeaways from Mike's PE update:


• Expect the April 4ȼ/lb increase to stay put through this month and maybe the next as suppliers will work hard to maintain any increases achieved. As such, a “buy as needed” strategy is advisable. Mike notes that processors’ inventories have largely returned to normal.


• PE inventories are expected to improve both because the planned maintenance outages are being completed and because there is global oversupply. U.S. exports increasingly will be challenged by lower-priced Asian exports in places like Latin America. This could tip the supply scale the other way.


• Expect PE prices to be on a flat-to-down trajectory, possibly for the remainder of the year, barring major supply disruptions.

First Vehicle to Have a Thermoplastic Composite Primary Suspension Spring

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 27. May 2016


Springs and upper control arms of the Polystrand GT-Lite racecar are made from nylon 6 with continuous glass reinforcement.


A purpose-built racing vehicle designed to highlight the application of thermoplastic composites in automotive applications recently competed for the first time at the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) Majors event at the Motor Speedway Resort (MSR) Houston—a 17-turn 2.38-mile road course race track located in Angleton, Texas.


Bodied as a 1987 Honda CRX, the Polystrand GT-Lite racecar reportedly is believed to be the first motor vehicle to use continuously reinforced thermoplastic composites as the primary suspension springs. “We strongly believe that reinforced thermoplastics offer an excellent opportunity in automotive lightweighting applications due to their ease and speed of processing, and offer a cost-effective, recyclable alternative to current materials,” says Ed Pilpel, president of Polystrand Inc., Engelwood, Col.


Here are some key details to this apparent milestone. The springs and upper control arms of this multi-link independent rear suspension system, which was designed by Polystrand senior engineer Jonathan Spiegel, are manufactured from nylon 6 and are reinforced with TufRov 4510 continuous E-glass from Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries.


The prototype springs were compression molded from Polystrand continuously reinforced thermoplastic tape at the Materials Processing and Application Development Center at the University of Alabama, Birmingham School of Engineering. Also featured on the car is a reinforced PP front splitter, which is an aerodynamic aid, and hybrid interior sandwich panels made of reinforced PETG thermally bonded between thin layers of aluminum and stainless steel, manufactured in-house at Polystrand utilizing PPG TufRov 4588 reinforcement.


“While we experience several teething problems in this first outing, chasing minor electrical and braking problems during the event that prevented us from finishing the races, the suspension system performed beyond expectations, allowing us to maintain a second place positon while on the track. The MSR track is known for being rough, so this was a good test of the suspension’s compliance. Handling balance was very good, and the car maintained excellent traction at high speeds even over the notoriously bumpy pavement.”


Want to keep abreast on the latest developments in automotive lightweighting enabled by thermoplastics composites? Do so by Registering for our second presentation of “Thermoplastics Composites for Automotive” (TCC Auto2016) conference on June 15-16 at the Suburban Collection Showcase in Novi, Mich. TCC Auto2016 is presented by Plastics Technology magazine and CompositesWorld, sister publications within Gardner Business Media, and will be concurrent with the Amerimold 2016 show and conference, presented by Gardner’s MoldingMaking Technology magazine.


Read more about applications and materials TCC Auto 2016


Read more about machinery and processes at TCC Auto 2016


Read more about carbon-fiber reinforced PP compounds at TCC Auto 2016

Thermoplastic composite primary suspension spring


Global Oversupply of PE, PP Better for Processors, Tougher on Producers

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 25. May 2016

As we approach the mid-year mark, IHS addresses how the competitive landscape is changing for global polyolefins.


Dull, is one thing pricing trends for polyolefins is not, particularly in the last few years as North American producers for both PE and PP became the leaders in low-cost production and enjoyed quite excellent profit margins. “The surge of shale gas derived feedstock has enabled North American polyethylene and polypropylene producers to achieve a level of cost-competitiveness that is unprecedented, since the Middle East has traditionally served as the world’s lowest-cost producer for these products,” says Nick Vafiadis, global business director of polyolefins and plastics at Houston-based IHS Chemical.


Meanwhile, a surge in new plastics chemical capacity coming from North America, the Middle East and China is driving the global market for PE and PP to oversupply, which will pressure margins for producers and change the global competitive landscape, according to IHS. Within the 2015-2020 timeframe, IHS has estimated that nearly 53 billion/lb of added new PE capacity will come on stream—more than one-third of which, about 18 billion, will come from the U.S. This will significantly increase the U.S. net-export position for PE and PP and other chemicals, rebalancing the global chemical trade flows that have favored the Middle East for decades.


Says Vafiadis, “In the near-term, this excess capacity is good news for North American converters, who will be more competitive on a global basis due to the increased competition associated with the PE capacity expansions. However, on the producer side, economics will be challenged in the near-term as global capacity expansions exceed demand growth and pressure margins.”


Beyond North America, China is also growing as a key, low-cost provider of PE, thanks to its production additions from coal-to-olefins technology. China is expected to add about 37.5 billion/lb of new PE/PP capacity within the five-year timeframe, which will drive further market volatility, according to Vafiadis. “The U.S. and China are now competing with the Middle East for global PE/PP market share, which should have significant impact on pricing and margins, so at IHS, we expect to see big changes ahead for the global industry…there will be significant imbalances as we see North America and the Middle East both add more PE capacity than is warranted for their domestic markets, so exports will be key for producers,” he says.


In Europe, imports from the Middles East in 2016 so far have surpassed 2015 numbers, as the region continued to see strong demand and offered attractive net-backs for Middle East producers. HDPE import figures for January and February 2016 overall, were the highest of the last eight years at 326 million/lb, while exports were the lowest for the same period at only 92.5 million/lb. According to IHS, a similar but less pronounced trend is occurring for other PE grades as well. 


“According to our IHS Chemical forecasts, we expect Asian pricing for PE to remain depressed for the remainder of 2016, and with European producers giving little margin away, this will mean netbacks from the Middle East to Europe will remain attractive in the coming months. The net result will mean PE imports will continue to arrive in Europe at relatively high levels from the Middle East,” Vafiadis says.


All this and more, will be discussed by IHS experts at the PEPP 2016: 24th Annual Polyethylene/Polypropylene Chain Global Technology and Business Forum, June 1-3, 2016, at the Swissotel Zurich in Switzerland. “One of the key issues of discussion will be the next wave of polymer capacity additions worldwide, and the ripples it will have throughout the supply chain. The additional supply will result in major changes in market dynamics, increasing trade flows and driving the need for improved supply chain management. We will also explore evolving consumer trends and regulations, which mean increasing demand for enhanced product quality in several end uses such as packaging and automotive,” says Vafiadis.


Low oil prices could make the environment even more attractive for new plastics applications, which will drive new innovations in PE/PP technology and applications, ventures Vafiadis.


Search for PE and PP resins in PT’s materials database.


More New LED Lighting Materials—LSRs, PPs and PCs

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 22. May 2016

Wacker’s LSR encapsulants, Trinseo’s advanced PC, and Panasonic’s light diffusion PP are among the latest options.


My third PT blog installment on interesting information that did not make it into New Materials Shine Bright in Growing LED Market, our upcoming June cover story, discusses new materials from Wacker Chemie, Trinseo, and Panasonic.


Wacker Chemie, LSR Encapsulants for LEDs and Optical Components. Wacker’s new LSR compounds Lumisil 590 and 591 are highly transparent, addition-curing silicone elastomers with a refractive index of 1.53, which means they rank among the high-refractive-index (HRI) encapsulants. Such grades are particularly well suited for manufacturing highly-efficient LEDs. The HRI silicone protects the sensitive LED chip against mechanical influences and corrosive gases. At the same time, the silicone’s high refractive index enables optimum light efficiency.


Semiconductor chips used to generate light in LEDs have a high refractive index. To maximize the amount of light emitted by the LED chip that can pass through the encapsulation, the refractive index of the chip and encapsulant must be roughly the same value. Thanks to their refractive index of 1.53, Lumisil 590 and 591 reportedly make LEDs highly efficient. What’s more, the highly transparent silicones are almost completely transparent for light in the visible spectra range (400 to 700 nm) and reportedly do not yellow even when radiation is extremely intense. Transmission tests with Lumisil 590 show that a one-millimeter-thick layer lets over 91% of visible light through. These two materials are said to protect the LED chip reliably against environmental influences. Corrosive gases such as hydrogen sulfide can damage the LED chip and reduce its performance. Tests show that LED chips encapsulated with these materials are protected against such damage longer and have a prolonged life.


These new HRI silicones are said to be easy to process, heat-resistant and absolutely tack-free after curing. They also exhibit optimized flow and crosslinking characteristics. With a viscosity of the mix of 2000 and 2500 mPas respectively, they enable efficient, cost-effective processing. Both products are suitable for encapsulating the LED chip via contact-free dispensing processes, and they form cured rubber grades of varying hardness. With a hardness of Shore A 65, Lumisil 590 is relatively soft, whereas Lumisil 591 is formulated to be significantly harder at Shore D 40.


 Trinseo, Emerge PC 8330LT Advanced Resin & Tyril 905UV SAN. Trinseo began supporting the LED lighting market sector early on in the industry’s evolution and offers a broad portfolio of materials under the Caliber PC and Emerge Advance Resin brands, including: transparent, light diffusion, ignition resistant, and reflective grades used by several global OEMs for lenses, optics, diffusers, reflectors, and housings.


Late last year, it launched next-generation materials including Emerge PC 8330LT, an advanced PC that has been recognized for its ability to fill the need for a transparent, thin-gauge, flame-retardant plastic. It is UL94 rated V-0 at 1.0mm and 5VA at 2.5mm. Also, new is cost-effective acrylic alternative Tyril 905UV SAN resin.


Panasonic Corp., Light Diffusion PP Molding Compounds. Panasonic has developed a light diffusion type PP molding compound which reportedly can extend the operating life of LEDs. Key applications include automotive interior lighting, outdoor sign boards, store lighting, and water-related lighting, as well as digital signage.


Branded Full Bright PP, the compounds are said to be an industry first in that, in addition to injection molding, they are applicable to injection stretch blow molding, enabling processors to form complex shapes with greater freedom based on individual customer applications. The new compounds are said to allow for the production of 0.02-9n. (0.5-mm) molding, which was previously unachievable; achieve less than 10% thickness accuracy by processing; and, unlike the company’s previously used conventional PP molding compound, they will not generate a hole when a product is blown to 0.02-in thickness.


The Full Bright PP compounds are also said to have overcome the weak light resistance of the conventional PP molding compounds and achieved excellent resistance to chemicals, contributing to extending the operating life of the LED lighting. Its UV resistance is as follows: under an environment of 90 C+ (UV radiation intensity of 400W mercury lamp-30cm distance), discoloration after 90 days of exposure (about 2000 hrs). Its ∆E is 2.0 or below, which is equivalent to 10 years in outdoor environments; this compared to the company’s previous PP molding compound with a ∆E of 17. Finally, the PP compounds’ low specific gravity contributes to lightweight design of LED lighting devices.


Read Part I, LSR Developments in LEDs for Automotive and Street Lighting


Read Part II, Plastic Heat Sinks for LEDs “Shine” for Two Lighting Component Manufacturers


Search for more of Wacker’s LSR and Trinseo’s PC and SAN offerings in PT’s materials database

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