SPI Bioplastics’ Inaugural Bioplastics Week

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 29. August 2016

The first ever such event featured educational information, including infographics, reports and blog posts.


With the fanfare that this growing and evolving market deserves, SPI’s Bioplastics Division launched its first ever Bioplastics Week last week. Coordinated by assistant director of regulatory and technical affairs, Patrick Krieger, this digital campaign featured educational information about bioplastics.


As shown by recent studies, such as “Global Markets and Technologies for Bioplastics,” from BCC Research, the global market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30% for the five-year period, 2015-2020.


According to SPI, the role of plastics in packaging, manufacturing, consumer goods, bottling and construction is growing thanks to the unique and unmistakable benefits they provide all participants in the value chain. Bioplastics are part of this plastics’ growth story that is helping brand owners and manufacturers find new applications and solutions.


A new report, an informative industry webinar, and a winner for the 2016 Innovation in Bioplastics Award were among the key highlights of this inaugural event.


• “Plastics Market Watch: Bioplastics,” report, which is based on the results of SPI’s nationwide survey on the topic, is designed to educate about the business and the environmental benefits of bioplastics products, and make the case for their increased use. SPI, which formed its Bioplastics Division in 2007, saw the need for such a report as noted by Krieger, “While growth continues in this sector of our industry, we recognize the challenges present in understanding the complex terminology and makeup of bioplastics products.”


As indicated by the 1,107 adults surveyed nationwide, there is little familiarity with or understanding about bioplastics, signaling a clear need to build more awareness. Only 27% of the respondents were somewhat or very familiar with bioplastics; 34% were not at all familiar; after learning about bioplastics, 50% of the respondents indicates they would consider purchasing a product it “was a little bit more expensive” because it was made with bioplastics; and, 57% indicated they would probably or definitely be more likely to consider purchasing a plastic product with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Certified Biobased Product seal.


• Bioplastics Week Webinar: SPI invited companies and individuals interested in learning more on how to make biodegradable or related environmental claims about their products or packaging. It included the following presentations:


About SPI’s Bioplastics Division and Bioplastics Week,” presented by Keith Edwards from BASF;


“Avoiding FTC Pitfalls when Making Environmental Claims,” discussed by Sheila Millar from Keller and Heckman LLP;


“Industrial Compostability Claims Checklist,” by Edwin Tam from Teknor Apex.


• The 2016 Innovation in Bioplastics Award, which honors companies that apply bioplastics to innovative, purposeful product design, went to Club Coffee’s PurPod100. It offers consumers a single-serve coffee solution that breaks down fully in typical municipal and industrial composting facilities in as little as five weeks. Said company CEO John Pigott, “Our team and partners developed materials that are industrially compostable. Groundbreaking research produced materials, including a paper lid, a ring using chaff from coffee roasting and a mesh filter made of biobased plastic. Well-known coffee brands are now using PurPod100 to deliver a perfect cup of coffee for consumers who what a better approach to single-service convenience.”


Meanwhile, PurPod100 is the first product to earn certification by the Biodegradable Products Institute and its industrial composting abilities were confirmed by tests at composting sites in the U.S. and Canada. Research from the U.S. Composting Council supports PurPod100’s other environmental benefits such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and the potential to divert tons of waste from landfills to industrial composting.


The growing phenomenon of single-serve coffee is apparent in office and home kitchens nationwide. According to Club Coffee, in 2014 almost 30% of U.S. consumers were drinking single-serve coffee, with U.S. single-serve retail coffee sales growth 319% between 2011 and 2015 to reach nearly $4.6 billion in revenue. 


Carbodeon to Expand Nanodiamonds Business

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 24. August 2016

Nanodiamonds have commercially joined the arsenal of thermally-conductive fillers, with applications underway.


Recent industry studies indicate that the thermally conductive plastics market is growing at annual rates of nearly 15%, driven by industries such as electrical/electronics, automotive, industrial, healthcare, and aerospace.


It was no surprise then to see that Finland’s Carbodeon, represented in the U.S. by SiliconSense, Nashua, N.H., has announced that it will accelerate its nanodiamond business and expand manufacturing capacity (read more here). This, enabled by $1.7 million funding it has received from Straightforward Capital, a Finnish venture capital firm. This funding follows major financing already received from biotech and advanced materials sector investor Enso Ventures.


As we reported in late 2015, the company was granted a U.S. patent for its technology which enables detonation-synthesized diamond particles –nanodiamonds (ND)—to be combined with polymers for use in fields such as consumer electronics, LED lighting, automotive and machine tools.


The earth’s hardest natural mineral is also one of the most thermally conductive materials known, so when NDs are mixed in with thermoplastics in controlled amounts, they can enable plastics to conduct heat at pre-determined rates, and/or to be highly wear-resistant.


Sources at Carbodeon confirm that its ultra-dispersed” Diamond ND fillers are already in commercial thermal management applications which involve electronic devices, but confidentiality agreement prevent the disclosure of further information.


Carbodeon’s patented technologies reportedly offer superior performance when used as additives in applications including thermal management materials, metal plating and selected polymer coating applications. There are now different easy-to-use and cost-effective grades in Carbodeon’s portfolio of NDs which are said to enable improved lifetime and conductive performance for electronic appliances and devices, automotive parts, and industrial manufacturing line components.


Available in powder or liquid dispersions, the ND is reportedly fully dispersed into its primary particles without agglomeration. As such, the compounder and end-user can benefit from the entire available ND surface area, resulting in better performance with less material and cost.  ND-impregnated polymers can deliver heat-conducting benefits for products such as LED lighting and mobile devices. The hard wearing properties also make them ideally suited for use in the automotive and aerospace sectors.


The new funding will be used to expand nanodiamond manufacturing capacity, recruit new talent and enhance customer support. Further investments in R&D will allow Carbodeon to continue to innovate and develop new products and applications. Says Carbodeon CEO Vesa Myllymaki, “This funding, combined with our innovative partnerships with customers and partners, will enable us to grow significantly within our key application areas.”


Novel Catalyst For Cheaper Biodegradable Plastics

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 19. August 2016

IBM Research and Stanford chemists come up with new chemical approaches to generate biodegradable plastics.


The search for new ways to more efficiently and inexpensively create biodegradable plastics continues on many fronts as we have been reporting within the last couple of years as seen here, here and here.


Now, a long-standing collaboration between IBM Research—Almaden, San Jose, Calif. and Stanford University’s Chemistry Department has culminated in the development of a new chemical catalyst that the researchers claim can be used to produce cheaper biodegradable plastics from plants such as palm trees and beets.


The research group headed by Robert Waymouth of Stanford and James Hedrick of IBM looked for an alternative to the standard, metal-based catalysts used to make biodegradable plastics. These catalysts are difficult or expensive to remove from the final material, and do not degrade in the environment. Their new catalyst is an organic substance that reportedly lowers the energy required for the conversion from plant to plastic to take place.


The researchers crafted it by reacting common chemical ingredients—thiourea and metal alcoxide. “While many catalysts are either fast or selective, these catalysts are both. They are simple to prepare, easy to use, and can be readily adopted by anyone with a basic knowledge of chemistry,” said Professor Waymouth. When a catalyst is both fast and selective, it means that it excels at accelerating and facilitating reactions and that it doesn’t alter the resulting polymer’s shape or properties once it is formed.


Not only does the new catalyst design lower the cost and environmental impact, but it is highly tunable. Weymouth noted that it can be used to generate several varieties of plastic suitable for different functions. For example, the catalyst can produce PLA for use in disposable plastic items such as tableware, cups, plates and forks; medical products such as resorbable sutures, implants and stents, as well as biomedical implants and drug-delivery systems; food packaging; and, non-woven fabrics.


Moreover, because this technique is relatively simple and the catalysts are readily modified, the researchers see further advances that can lead to a new and broadly useful class of catalysts—and likewise, new and useful biodegradable plastics, beyond what was identified in their study, “Fast and Selective Ring-Opening Polymerizations by Alkoxides and Thioureas,” which was published in the July issue of Nature Chemistry, and which was partly funded by the National Science Foundation.


IBM Research—Almaden is also the “birthplace” of several recent plastics and recycling achievements including the discoveries of: a new process to recycle plastics into nonfibers designed to specifically target and attack fungal infections; an entirely new class of plastics; a new plastic macromolecule that could help prevent deadly virus infections; and a new method for recycling CDs into non-toxic plastics for water purification and medicine. 


Smart Electronics for Luminous, Smart, Sustainable Clothing

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 18. August 2016


Covestro will “shine” at K 2016 showcasing an item of luminous clothing with a TPU formable film/copper laminate as key.


Our September pre-K 2016 issue includes a feature on materials and additives and you will notice that there is no shortage of new developments in those arenas. Expect to see some pretty exciting new applications showcased by most key suppliers.


One example, is Covestro, Pittsburgh, Penn., which will showcase an item of luminous clothing that utilizes light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to make it stand out, but also can also perform key functions such as protecting pedestrians and cyclists against accidents. What makes it unusual is that the LEDs are not positioned on a panel or strip, but on a piece of soft fabric.


Central to this development is an electronic system that is responsive to movements without losing its functionality. This system comprises a flexible and formable film made from a Covestro TPU. It serves as the substrate for the printed copper circuits which are arranges in a meandering pattern and can thus also be bent and stretched.


This “intelligent” technology involves the manufacture of smart circuits using the following efficient, multi-stage process:


• First, copper films are laminated onto the TPU films.


• The printed circuits are produced in a subsequent structuring operation, which reportedly features highly-effective adhesion.


• The coated films are then shaped as required using conventional thermoforming.


According to Covestro film expert Wolfgang Stenbeck, the TPU films are resistant to standard etching and imaging processes. “Formable electronic systems can be directly laminated onto textiles, as is the case of the luminous dress,” he said.


This production technology is part of various projects funded by the EU Commission, among them STELLA and TERASEL. The objective is to product 2.4-dimensional electronic circuits cost-effectively using conventional forming processes. The freely-formed components can be integrated seamlessly into energy-efficient electronic components. They can be processed using standard PCB industry equipment and are also suitable for applications with higher currents or voltages. Compared to conventional electronic components, the smart circuits offer greater design freedom and reliability while enabling more sustainable products for a variety of industries due to the reduced use of materials. Here are some exciting applications this technology offers:


• There’s a wide range of options for smart textiles, alone. In addition to fashion items, freely-formable electronic systems are already in use in underwear, where they monitor heart rate and breathing. They assist patients with therapy and help athletes monitor their training.


• TERASEL technology also enables production of modular automotive interior components in which all functions are already integrated. It boasts reduced complexity in assembly, lower costs and shorter time to market. It is also said to clear the way for new lighting concepts in automotive interiors and buildings, where designers and architects can position LEDs exactly where they are most needed.


• In consumer electronics, smart circuits are supporting the trend toward increased miniaturization of components, as they can be incorporated directly into the outer shell of products.


• Stretchable circuit board (SCB) technology for manufacturing electronic circuits was developed earlier as part of the STELLA project. This was led by the Fraunhofer Institute for reliability and Microintegration (IZM) and the Technical University of Berlin. Coated TPU films can be stretched repeatedly up to 60%, and on a one-time basis by as much as 300%.


Non-Ortho-Phthalates Gain Ground in Flexible PVC

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 17. August 2016

Conversion to non-ortho-phthalate plasticizers expected to steadily continue.


“Health, Environmental Concerns Give Non-Phthalate Plasticizers a Push”, our August cover story, discusses how workhorse ortho-phthalate plasticizers DOP/DEHP and DINP in flexible PVC will continue to steadily be replaced by non-phthalate alternatives.


In my coverage of the broad category of non-phthalate alternatives that are getting the most play, I included DOTP (diethylehexyl terephthalate, aka DEHT). It is more accurate to say they are non-ortho-phthalates.


Our long-time industry colleague Allan Griff, consulting engineer and plastics extrusion pro, told me that there is still some unresolved confusion around ortho- and tere-phthalates, and he will be addressing this in his presentation at the upcoming SPE Vinyltec in Woodbridge, N.J. on Sept. 21. An email from Allan prompted me to blog about this both for the sake of my article’s accuracy and the fun but instructive chemistry lesson he offered as follows:


• A phthalate is based on phthalic acid, which is like a person with two hands (forget the feet right now). The type of phthalate depends on what he’s holding. If he holds two oranges, it’s “orange” phthalate. If he has two fish, it’s “fish” phthalate. And, if he has two-8-carbon chains, it’s diOctyl phthalate (di = 2, octyl = 8 like octopus) = DOP, the most common plasticizer, which can soften PVC resin for use in flexible applications. (He can in principle have different things in right and left hands, but that doesn’t happen in the real world of plasticizers.)


• Now, there are two important classes of phthalates. If the hands are close to each other, like clapping or praying, they can hold onto things together. Those are ortho-phthalates, which are the ones accused of harmful effects. However, and this is critical, if the arms stick straight out to both sides, like a welcoming gesture, they don’t work together at all. That’s a tere-phthalate, and they haven’t been considered dangerous (yet) because they don’t react like ortho-phthalates can.


Allan is referring particularly to DOTP which was first offered by Eastman Chemical as a ‘non-phthalate’ plasticizer (Eastman 168), with 168 SG (sensitive grade) version launched in 2013, a high-purity grade for medical and children products. Also that year, seeing the value of DOTP, BASF launched Palatinol DOTP, and is starting North American production of this plasticizer next year at dedicated facilities in Pasadena, Texas. It happens that this non-ortho-phthalate has experienced a nine-fold increase in consumption in North America and Europe combined, according to recent industry reports from Houston-based IHS Chemical and others. Allan makes the point that while these DOTP products are significantly different than the ortho-phthalates, they are phthalates nonetheless.


Moreover, he points to two other important connections: PET and BPA (bisphenol-A). “No-one has seriously accused this plastic (PET) of harm, other than waste of resources.” He says this might be because no-one wants to go up against the beverage industry, but also because there is a big difference: PET is a terephthalate—the kind with the arms sticking out and joining with other phthalate molecules to form a chain.  Adds Allan, “In other words, it’s the plastic itself, not an additive like DOP in PVC! Here we see the difference between a building block (monomer), which loses its identity (and reactability) as a component of a polymer chain, versus, an additive, which remains unreacted in the finished product.”


He then points out that this is where BPA fits in. “The public confuses polymer with additive. They talk about plastics with BPA ‘in it,’ but that is only PC, which is too expensive anyway for mass usage. However, the BPA anxiety has spread to other clear plastics, including PET, which chemically has nothing to do with BPA. If there is residual BPA in the PC, that is what needs to be talked about, and maybe limits even set much as the vinyl industry set limits for the carcinogenic vinyl chloride monomer back in the 70s.” 

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