Natural Plastics

News about the bioplastics industry

World’s first pilot unit for producing nanocellulose to be built in Stockholm

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nanocellulosa_gel_liten_cmyk The world’s first pilot plant for making it possible to work with nanocellulose on a large scale is currently under construction in Stockholm. With this major venture, Innventia, a research company, is taking a decisive step towards the industrialisation of its energy efficient production process for the new super material.
Nanocellulose is a material that is extracted from wood fibres. It has exceptional strength properties, being more or less as strong as Kevlar, a light weight material. However, in contrast to Kevlar and other materials based on fossil fuels, nanocellulose is completely renewable.
“For a long time, there’s been a great deal of interest from industry in utilising nanocellulose as a strengthening component in other materials, such as paper, composites and plastics,” relates Mikael Ankerfors, a Research Manager at Innventia. “We can also create new, more effective, environmentally compatible and renewable barrier films for packages used for foodstuffs.”
Nanocellulose, a super material, is going to have many areas of use in the future. For example, it can be used to make membranes and other reserve parts for the human body.  It can also be used as a provider of viscosity in foodstuffs; in other words, it is able to replace carbohydrates and other additives in foodstuffs, which are known as low calorie products.
“Nanocellulose will be something revolutionary for the foodstuff industry too,” continues Mikael.
For the first time, nanocellulose will be able to be produced on a large scale, with the process being economically efficient. Previously, the homogenising stage in the process was much too demanding, when it comes to energy. Due to the process developments carried out by Innventia, the energy consumption has been reduced by a total of 98%.
Mikael explains, “This is equivalent to a saving of 29,000 kWh per tonne. To give a comparison, consider that the heating of a normal sized house takes approximately 18,000 kWh per year. For a full-sized mill that furnishes a paper mill with nanocellulose, this means a saving in energy that would be equivalent to 8,000 houses a year.”
Innventia is making a major investment in this technology by constructing the first pilot plant in the world for producing on a larger scale.
“This is a natural step in the investment we’re making in nanocellulose. In order to develop applications, such as paper and composite materials, the raw material produced in a lab is not sufficient. As the only company in the world, we’re extremely proud to be able to offer industry real opportunities to participate in this field, which is so important for the future,” concludes Mikael.

Cereplast Enters Distribution Agreement with Ashland to Supply Environmentally Friendly Bioplastic Resins

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Cereplast, Inc. (NASDAQ:CERP) ("Cereplast"), a leading manufacturer of proprietary bio-based, sustainable plastics, today announced that it has entered into a distribution agreement with Ashland Distribution, a commercial unit of Ashland Inc. (NYSE:ASH), to supply bioplastic resins to their global distribution business. This partnership reflects Cereplast's overall growth strategy and continued commitment to expanding the company's distribution reach in North America.

Ashland Distribution is a leading plastics and chemicals distributor in North America, and part of Ashland Inc., which posted more than $8 billion in annual revenue last year. Under the agreement, Ashland Distribution will distribute Cereplast Compostables(R) and Hybrids Resins(R) to converters and manufacturers throughout North America, to Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the United States. Cereplast's bioplastic resins enable Ashland Distribution to supply its customers with bio-based materials, an environmentally sustainable alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastic.
"We continue to identify key distribution partners and we are pleased to have partnered with Ashland Distribution, a major chemical company, to help provide their customers with new and innovative ways to satisfy growing consumer demand for cleaner, environmentally sustainable materials," said Mr. Frederic Scheer, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Cereplast, Inc. "Ashland operates in more than 100 countries around the world, and this agreement reflects Cereplast's continued commitment to expanding its global footprint as a leading manufacturer of sustainable plastics."

"Our agreement with Cereplast enables us to address growing consumer and industrial demand for environmentally friendly plastic products," commented Michael Gilbert, vice president of plastics, Ashland Distribution. "This collaborative agreement expands our product offering and strengthens our positioning as a leading distributor of thermoplastics."

SOURCE: Cereplast, Inc.

New technology for production of bio-degradable plastic

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Topsoe has developed a process in cooperation with Technical University of Denmark, Department of Chemistry, making it possible to convert carbohydrates from biomass to lactic acid using a catalyst. Lactic acid is used for the production of bio-degradable plastic.

A catalyst converting biomass
This is the first time the process takes place over a catalyst – previously, biomass has been converted to lactic acid using fermentation. As the process may now take place using an inorganic catalyst, it will be possible to produce lactic acid using new and more cost-efficient processes.

The research results have been published in an article in the internationally esteemed magazine Science on 30 April 2010.

Copying natural processes
The process developed by researchers at Topsøe and DTU Chemistry, mirrors the process seen in biological systems. "You may say that the catalyst acts in the same way as bacteria do in the natural fermentation process," says Esben Taarning, who is one of the researchers behind the discovery.

Esben Taarning explains: "By modifying the acidity in catalysts used for oil refining, we may change their catalytic properties, enabling carbohydrates to be converted into lactic acid products. Until now, this form of conversion has been limited to biological systems."

The potential of the production of lactic acid
Lactic acid products may be used for the production of biodegradable plastic and solvents. In the long term these may replace a large part of the chemical products which are produced from fossil resources today.

Claus Hviid Christensen, Vice President at Topsøe says: "In the future, biomass will be the primary building block for the chemical industry. The production of chemicals will create greater value than what is possible today – and at the same time reduce CO2 emissions. So we are already well on the way towards the technology of the future."


EconCore introduces bio-based composite panel

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EconCore is producing honeycomb cores and sandwich panels made from bio-based plastics.

By combining its cost effective production technology with renewable materials, EconCore, based in Leuven, Belgium, is able to produce a sandwich panel which is said to have excellent mechanical properties while still being cost competitive with traditional sheet materials.

“The last 6 months EconCore has optimised the production technology to produce PLA [polylactic acid] based hexagonal honeycomb cores using a continuous production process," says François de Bie, head of sales and marketing, EconCore. "Only moments after the core is produced skin layers are added in a second step of the continuous production process.”

These skins could be made from unfilled PLA material to make a mono material panel or, in case a higher performance is required, could be replaced with consolidated flax in a PLA matrix.

Polylactic acid (PLA) is a biopolymer used which can be used to make, for example, packaging, consumer goods and furniture and is derived from renewable resources instead of oil. Derived from 100% annually renewable resources such as plants, PLA generates significantly less greenhouse gas emissions over the life time when compared to traditional materials like PP.

"Today, the exploitation of the economical advantages of weight reduction has become essential for many industries,” says de Bie. “Bio-based polymer materials are still relatively expensive compared to for example PP [polypropylene] alternatives which has limited the use of these materials in structural applications. Bio-based sandwich panels can be used in for example re-usable packaging, furniture, automotive interiors or separation walls.”


Finally, a Biofuel That is Commercially Viable?

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Joule Unlimited, a Cambridge, Massachusetts based company, has just begun construction on a test facility in Texas which will produce ethanol and diesel fuels from an innovative new source: gene altered organisms that absorb sunlight and carbon dioxide in order to “sweat” hydrocarbons.

These organisms live in a panel that resembles a photovoltaic cell and similarly faces the sun. They live in stagnant water and only need small amounts of chemical nutrients to prosper, making them hearty and, so far, able to withstand a variety of testing conditions. The move to a testing facility near Austin will test just how hearty and resilient these organisms are once they are exposed to the elements.

The technology is similar to the fuel-from-algae processes that many companies are experimenting with, except for one basic difference. In the algae process, the organisms actually hold the fats and fuels that need to be crushed out of them, or removed by some other means. This process is energy intensive and is generally the roadblock to commercializing biomass fuels. In the Joule process, the organisms actually “sweat” the fuels – eliminating the biggest bottleneck that has existed to make commercial production a reality.

For the organisms producing diesel, the extraction process is very easy – diesel floats in water, the same way that oil does, and can be skimmed off the top. For the ethanol producing plants, the fuel will have to be evaporated from the water.

The test plant is set to begin operations in June and Joule is expecting the production to reach 25,000 gallons of ethanol for each acre of panels - a much higher yield per acre than any other waste/biomass source has achieved to date. If all goes as planned, the pilot plant will switch to commercial production in 2012.


NH Hoteles strikes d2w deal with Symphony

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Spanish hotel group NH Hoteles is set to use oxo-degradable additives in plastic products after striking a deal with Symphony.

Speaking at a press conference in London, NH chief executive Gabriele Burgio said the deal with Symphony is part of its drive to become one of the most sustainable hotel companies in the world. The packaging used for complimentary products such as combs, shower gels and laundry bags will be made using the oxo-degradable additives and will feature the d2w logo.

Burgio said there will be no disruption to the supply chain and that there will be no large increase in production costs.

Michael Laurier, ceo of Symphony, said d2w plastics are not marketed as compostable but instead allows manufacturers to create a “controlled life” product. By using d2w, they can set a start point for degradation after the product's useful life, after which time the plastic packaging degrades, triggered by heat, light and stress.

Speaking after the conference, Symphony said the deal is an important step in the company’s growth.

“We already have a similar deal with Grupo Bimbo, a South American bakery company, but they are not very well known in Europe,” it said. “But NH Hoteles is a recognisable brand.”

NH Hoteles has 358 hotels in Europe, 32 in the Americas and two in Africa. It posted 2009 sales of ?.2bn and has some 18 million customers per year.


United States Patent Awarded for Polylactic Acid Blown Film and Method of Manufacturing

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Plastic Suppliers, Inc. was awarded the U.S. 7,615,183 B2 patent for “Polylactic Acid Blown Film and Method of Manufacturing.” The receipt of this patent validates the viability of their blown manufacturing process and their bio-based family of products branded as EarthFirst®.
Plastic Suppliers has worked diligently to develop the technology behind this patent as well as the EarthFirst product line to affect a positive change in the plastic film industry with the use of environmentally friendly bio-based films. The EarthFirst product produced using this patent is currently being used in the flexible packaging, labeling, lamination and windowing markets.
Plastic Suppliers, Inc. offers outstanding customer service and a commitment to excellence in the extrusion and distribution of all their products. “Plastic Suppliers is your total films solution.”


Futerro opens PLA pilot plant

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Futerro, a 50/50 joint venture established in September 2007 by Galactic and Total Petrochemicals, announces the inauguration of its bioplastics production unit in Escanaffles, Belgium on Friday 16 April 2010. Supported by the Walloon Region through the Marshall Plan, the purpose of this unit is to develop state-of-the-art technology for the production of PolyLactic Acid (PLA) bioplastics from renewable vegetable sources developed by the two partners.
By bringing this plant on stream, Futerro has become the first producer of this type of
bioplastics in Europe. Clean, innovative and competitive, this technology comprises two main steps. Firstly, the preparation and purification of the monomer, lactide, from lactic acid, which is obtained by fermenting sugar, mainly from beet*. Secondly, the polymerisation of the monomer to obtain biodegradable vegetable plastic granules, PLA.
‘I am especially delighted about the success of this project, which was one of the first to be selected by the competitiveness pole jury,’ declared Jean-Claude Marcourt, Vice-President of the Walloon region and Minister of the Economy, SMEs, External Trade, New Technologies and Higher Education. ‘Delighted and enthusiastic because, on the one hand, this shows that we were right to create the poles and to improve how all the innovative companies work and, on the other, because this is an example of the type of innovation that has to become
Wallonia’s trademark. A Wallonia that forges ahead, that searches… and finds. That creates tomorrow.’
‘This project is perfectly aligned to the Total Group’s research and investment policy for renewable resources,’ says François Cornélis, Vice-Chairman of the Executive Committee and President of Chemicals, Total. ‘Futerro will allow us to diversify to an even greater degree with regard to the raw materials used in the production of our plastics. This technology could then be used in international projects.’
‘This pilot unit is the result of more than 15 years of development. PLA will play an increasingly important role in the plastics industry and will in the medium term become the main product of lactic acid,’ says Frédéric Van Gansberghe, CEO of Galactic. ‘As well as being biological of origin, PLA can also be fully recycled at the end of its life, which makes it the first biorenewable plastic.’

The pilot unit, which has a capacity of 1,500 tonnes per year and represents an investment of 15 million euros, will be used to test and improve the successive steps in this technology.
Futerro is now able to produce a complete range of products from lactic acid, including lactide, and PLA oligomers and polymers. They will be used by the packaging industry, primarily food packaging, and in sustainable applications.
* Other vegetables such as sugar cane, corn and wheat can also be used to produce lactic acid. Such renewable resources as biomass (forest and agricultural waste) are also conceivable in the future.
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Ti enters bioplastic market

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Leading BoPP film producer Taghleef Industries (Ti) is pleased to announce its commitment to the development of sustainable packaging by introducing a fully natural film range. The films will be based on NatureWorks® PLA (PolyLactic Acid) polymers, which are marketed under the brand name Ingeo™ and which are 100% made from renewable resources.
This natural origin combines the advantages of both not using oil-derivates as a raw material as well as offering a wider range of end-of-life options, including recycling and industrial composting.
In fact, when disposed in an industrial composting facility, PLA film is biodegradable and compostable according to European standard EN13432 and completely converts into carbon dioxide, water and biomass by microbial digestion. In addition, Ingeo™ biopolymer is registered by AIB Vincotte under the OK Biobased certification scheme with the highest 4 star **** rating of renewable carbon content.
Valerio Garzitto, CEO Ti Europe explains “We are putting substantial efforts into upgrading our production for the manufacturing of BoPLA films at our Italian site. We will launch our new BoPLA product range in the 4th quarter this year and will offer a film portfolio of different thicknesses and aesthetical appearances to meet customers’ requirements. The new compostable films can be used in various packaging applications, such as fresh produce, bakery, dairy or confectionery and will complement the existing bio-plastics used in packaging already.”

In line with Ti’s investment in Research and Development, a strong and professional technical team has already been positioned to work closely with customers to develop the best bio-based solutions tailored for their market.
“Ti, as a responsible manufacturer, is serious about the concept of sustainability” – Dr Detlef Schuhmann, CEO Ti Group said – “and the commitment to this latest development is another indication that we aim to be at the forefront of the packaging film industry for years to come”.
“We are happy to have partnered with such a committed player like Ti. We are confident that their expertise in the packaging film market will support the continuous growth and the acceptance of BoPLA films, which will drive the change to more sustainable packaging.” commented Mark Vergauwen, European Commercial Director of NatureWorks LLC.

About Taghleef Industries
Headquartered in Dubai, Ti has 6 production sites across the globe with a nominal capacity of 260,000tpy. Ti develops, manufactures and markets BoPP (bi-oriented polypropylene) and CPP (cast polypropylene) films for snacks, confectionery, bakery/biscuits, fresh produce packaging as well as for labelling and adhesive tapes. Ti offers a portfolio of high quality transparent, white voided and metallised films to its customers in more than 100 countries.


Cereplast Provides Update on its Breakthrough Algae-Based Plastics

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Cereplast, Inc., a leading manufacturer of proprietary bio-based, sustainable plastics, announced today that its plan to develop a new family of algae-based resins is progressing well and that the Company expects to offer the first grade of Cereplast Algae Plastics(R) for commercial use by the end of the year.

Cereplast algae-based resins represent a breakthrough in industry technology and have the potential to replace 50% or more of the petroleum content used in traditional plastic resins. Currently, Cereplast is using renewable material such as starches from corn, tapioca, wheat and potatoes in the manufacture of bio-based resins. Algae-based resins, which are revolutionary in the industry, will complement the Company's existing line of Compostables(R) and Hybrid(R) resins.

"Algae-based resins represent the latest advancement in bioplastics technology and our product development efforts over the last several months has yielded very encouraging results," said Frederic Scheer, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Cereplast, Inc. "The properties of hybrid materials that we have developed with algae are now very close to meeting our expectations, and are on target to introduce a new family algae-based plastics by the end of the year. In the not so distant future, we believe that algae will become one of the most important 'green' feedstocks in bioplastics as well as biofuels." Added Mr. Scheer, "Our view is that developing alternative feedstock unrelated to fossil fuels and to the food chain is the next 'frontier' for bioplastics and Cereplast is moving ahead very aggressively on this front."

Cereplast is currently in contact with several companies that plan to use algae to minimize the carbon dioxide and nitrous gases from polluting smoke-stack environments. Algae from a typical photo-bioreactor is harvested daily and may be treated as biomass, which can be used as biofuel or as a raw material source for biopolymer feed stock. The Company is also in direct communication with potential chemical conversion companies that could convert the algae biomass into viable monomers for further conversion into potential biopolymers.

"Commercial algae resins represent a significant breakthrough in the greening of the plastics industry, a transformation that we believe is critical to helping ensure the long-term sustainability of the planet," commented William Kelly who is leading Cereplast's algae to plastics development efforts. "There are already a number of big players entering the commercial-scale algae production business, and the use of algae as a feedstock for plastics allows us to go full circle: the very substance that can absorb and minimize CO2 and polluting gases from the industrial process can also be turned into sustainable, renewable plastic products and biofuels while reducing our use of fossil fuels."

SOURCE: Cereplast, Inc.

Bio soap wrapped in fully compostable package

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jabom Umbria Olii International introduces a worldwide first - compostable soap wrapping. This bio-film is based on FKuR’s Bio-Flex® and is used for the packaging of “Ecolive“ laundry soap.
Umbria Olii International “Ecolive” laundry soap is made from 100% natural olive oil. In order to emphasize their ecological commitment, Umbria Olii International searched for a wrapping film which was made from natural resources and certified as biodegradable (according to EN 13432) while, at the same time, was chemically resistant.
“The high content of renewable resources and the appealing glossy surface along with the certified biodegradability of the multilayer bio-film (supplied via Cartotecnica & Poligrafica Veneta) has convinced us“, says Sergio Montano, President of Umbria Olii International.

For the bio-wrapping, Bio-Flex® F 2110 and Bio-Flex® A 4100 CL from FKuR have been chosen. "The unique properties of this multilayer film as well as its straightforward conversion process along with the good printability were the decisive factors in choosing the materials from FKuR“, say Poligrafica & Cartotecnica Veneta who extrude and print the film, respectively.

Bioplastics are a class of polymers, which have properties comparable to conventional polymers, but are made from renewable resources or enable the biodegradability of the products made from this material.
Umbria Olii International is one of the most important Italian industrial users of Olive Oil. After several years of research they have developed and registered an industrial process for soap, unique in its kind. They have a complete cosmetic range under the “Olivella” brand, and recently added a new product: the laundry soap “Ecolive”.


FKuR & Fujitsu: Bio-Keyboard

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teclado Fujitsu introduces a world first - an injection moulded keyboard made from renewable materials. This newly developed eco-keyboard 'KBPC PX ECO' has been launched under the label “Green IT” with Biograde® resin from FKuR being used for some of the component parts.

This new Eco-Keyboard underlines Fujitsu’s Green IT commitment to saving CO2 emissions, and represents a further innovation for Green IT. “In order to reduce the dependency on oil, Fujitsu’s new keyboard replaces 45 percent of plastic components with materials from renewable resources”, confirms Jürgen Geiger, project manager in charge at Fujitsu Technology Solutions.
For the keyboard base, Biograde® C 7500 CL from FKuR has been chosen. “The ease of processing using existing production equipment and the excellent mechanical properties of Biograde® were the decisive factors for choosing this material from FKuR”, says Thomas Raab, responsible project manager at Amper Plastik. “Parts made from Biograde meet the special requirements for keyboards and in some cases even exceed the properties of oil-based plastics.”

Bioplastics are a class of polymers, which have properties comparable to conventional polymers, but are made from renewable resources or enable biodegradability of the products made from this material.

Fujitsu Technology Solutions is the leading European IT infrastructure provider present in all worldwide key markets, serving large-, medium- and small-sized companies as well as consumers. With its Dynamic Infrastructures approach, the company offers a full portfolio of IT products, solutions and services, ranging from clients to datacenter solutions, Managed Infrastructure and Infrastructure-as-a-Service.

Amper Plastik established for 50 years, a high-quality, technically superior plastic productand injection moulding producer. Among their customers are well-known OEM’s from the IT and automotive sector, electrical and electronic industry as well as medical and communication technologies.

FKuR Kunststoff GmbH produces and markets special, customized biopolymers under the brand names Bio-Flex® (polylactic acid/copolyester compound), Biograde® (cellulose ester compound) and Fibrolon® (natural fibre reinforced polymers). The close cooperation of the company with the Fraunhofer Institute UMSICHT assures outstanding know-how and quality standards.

Closed Loop Recycling skims 10% off Sainsbury’s milk

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Closed Loop Recycling, a UK producer of food grade rPET and rHDPE, is working in partnership with the dairy industry to help it achieve the recycling milestones agreed in its Milk Roadmap.

High street retailer Sainsbury’s has confirmed it is the first of the big four supermarkets to use 10% rHDPE in its milk bottle packaging. All of its own-brand plastic milk bottles now contain 10% rHDPE, and the retailer is further committed to increasing that level to 30% by 2015.

Chris Dow, Closed Loop Recycling’s managing director, said: “We have supported the dairy industry and its ambitions to increase recycled packaging content since the start.

“The fact that Sainsbury’s is now choosing to use 10% UK-sourced rHDPE in its own brand milk bottles is evidence of the commitment by the whole industry, including retailers, recyclers and packaging companies, to close the loop on UK packaging and directly respond to customer demands for increased sustainability.”


Veri Waters uses r-PET

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The spanish water bottler Veri is using recycled PET in the manufacture of all plastic containers of 1.5 liters.Each of the new PET bottles watermark uses 25% recycled material.The initiative is part of the strategy Veri environmental commitment, which has been reflected over the years a number of other initiatives such as the Integrated System Integration Management Ecoembes containers, the progressive reduction of 15% weight of the PET packaging or reduction of energy consumption.

Thanks to this improvement, which involved an investment of 450,000 euros, is substantially reducing the environmental impact of the company to reduce consumption of nonrenewable resources, minimize waste and reduce CO2 emissions.


Font Vella Ecoligera

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Font Vella (Danone Group) has launched a bottle of 6.25 liters of water produced with 25% recycled plastic and is 100% recyclable.Under the brand Ecoligera Font Vella, the new bottle is made with 22% less plastic per liter of water contained, generating less waste.

The new bottle also a reduction of up to 29% in CO2 emissions, the rest of its large size, five and eight liters. This is equivalent to oxygen generating 15,000 trees a year.


Bioplastic developers win European Inventor Award

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The two researchers behind the Arboform “liquid wood” bioplastic this week took first place in the SME Research category of the 2010 European Inventor Award, organised by the European Patent Office and the European Commission.

Jürgen Pfitzer and Helmut Nägele, both German nationals, received the award at a ceremony in Madrid, Spain, on Wednesday this week. The judges described the Arboform material as “a breakthrough in the sustainable use of renewable resources.”

Arboform bioplastic was developed by Pfitzer and Nägele while working at the Fraunhofer ICT research organisation in Germany. It takes lignin - the rigid component in wood and a by-product of pulp and paper-making - and combines it with resins, flax and other natural fibres to create a compound that can be processed as a thermoplastic by injection moulding.

The Arboform material can be used to produce durable moulded components which can, at the end of their life, be biodegraded. It also makes use of a raw material – lignin – which would otherwise be burnt or used in low value animal feeds.
Pfitzer and Nägele established a technology spin-off company – Tecnaro, which is based at Ilsfeld in Germany – to market the Arboform resins in 1998. It now employs14 staff and last year produced 275 tonnes of Arboform and a range of other biodegradable and renewable plastic compounds.
Arboform, which costs from around €2.5/kg, has drawn considerable interest from the automotive industry for its ability to replicate the finish and feel of wood in three-dimensional parts. It has also been used to produce designer loudspeaker casings and golf tees.

The European Inventor Award was established in 2006 to recognise the achievment of outstanding inventors from across the world. Other winners at the 2010 event included:
Lifetime Achievement: Wolfgang Krätschmer of Germany for his work in production of fullerenes (a new class of carbon molecules).

Industry Category: Albert Markendorf of Switzerland and Raimund Loser of Germany for development of a new high precision 3D scanning and measuring system for industrial measurement.
Non European Category: Sanjai Kohli and Steven Chen from the US for development of some of the technologies enabling the commercialisation of low cost GPS navigation tools and Ben Wiens and Danny Epps of Canada for their activities in the electrochemical fuel cell sector.

Opportunities for commercialisation of renewably-sourced plastics will be on the agenda at the European Plastics News Renewable Plastics which takes place in July in Belgium.


EU Parliament hears the “green” side of plastics

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Finnish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Eija-Riitta Korhola presented preview findings of a new sustainability report - which quantifies in detail the positive contribution plastics make to managing climate change - to a group of invited MEPs and Commission officials during a hosted debate at the European Parliament on Wednesday this week.

Korhola - who is vice-chair of the parliament’s Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection and a substitute member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy – detailed the initial findings of the study, titled “Plastics’ Contribution to Climate Protection’’.

The preview findings of the study, which has been funded by PlasticsEurope and was carried out by independent Austrian sustainability consultancy Denkstatt, show the use of plastics saves 2,300m GJ in energy a year. This equates to 50m tonnes of crude oil – the contents of 194 oil tankers – or 120m tonnes of GHG emissions.

The Denkstatt study looked at 173 plastic products across all plastic applications in Europe and examined energy usage throughout the entire product life cycle. Final results are currently under preparation and will be released in June, according to PlasticsEurope.

“This study’s approach is very timely - the climate change phenomenon is so serious that we can’t afford shallow assumptions and populist bumper-sticker slogans. We need facts and sound evidence on which to base our legislation,” said Korhola.

The study also finds that while an average consumer in the EU 27+2 states (EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland) emits about 14 tonnes of CO2 a year, just 1.3% - 170kg – stems from the use of plastics products.

“The Denkstatt Study challenges negative perceptions of plastics by highlighting the beneficial features of the material when viewed from a lifecycle perspective,” said PlasticsEurope executive director Wilfried Haensel.

“Saving 120 million tonnes of GHG is already 38% of the EU15 Kyoto target on the reduction of GHG emissions,” he said.

Key findings contained in the preview study include:

Plastic products enable energy savings of 2,300m GJ a year, equating to 50m tonnes of crude oil;

Use of plastic products cuts GHG emissions by 120m tonnes a year, equivalent to the total CO2 emissions of Belgium for the year 2000 or 38% of the EU15 Kyoto GHG reduction target ;

Plastics account for just 1.3% of the CO2 emissions produced by the average consumer in the EU 27+2 countries – 170kg out of a total of 14 tonnes;

Substituting plastics with alternative materials would increase energy consumption by 46% (across the total life-cycle of plastic products) and increase greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. 


The Promise And Pitfalls of Bioplastic

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Regular, petroleum-based plastic doesn't biodegrade. But this year's crop of Earth Day — inspired ads shows plant-based plastics doing just that: an empty SunChips bag fading into the soil, a Paper Mate pen dissolving underground. Although the visuals suggest that these items simply disintegrate (Goodbye, landfill!), the reality is more complicated. Take the SunChips bag. It needs to go in a compost bin; the packaging is clear about that. Likewise, Paper Mate notes that the pen's outer casing will break down if buried in a backyard but that its innards should go in the garbage. Forget to separate them, and the outer part won't biodegrade in a landfill.
Bioplastics could be really good for the environment — the manufacturing process produces fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than that for petroleum-based plastics, and these biomaterials don't contain an allegedly hormone-disrupting chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), that some regular plastics do. But is society green enough to use bioplastics? Many of us still don't recycle all our bottles and cans, and now companies are expecting us to start composting?
Bioplastics have been around for decades — Henry Ford made automotive parts out of corn and soybean oils for the Model T — and interest in these materials has tended to fluctuate with the price of oil. Of the two promising new varieties of bioplastic, one type — dubbed polylactic acid, or PLA — is clear in color and costs manufacturers about 20% more to use than petroleum-based plastic. The other — called polyhydroxyalkanoate, or PHA — biodegrades more easily but is more than double the price of regular plastic. Both bioplastics are made of fermented corn sugar, and both come with a major benefit: if disposed of properly, they won't stick around in landfills for thousands of years.
But that's a big if. The PLA resins that biodegrade when composted are showing up in more and more consumer products. For example, NatureWorks makes polymers that are now in SunChips bags, water bottles in some government cafeterias and new Coca-Cola fountain-soda cups. (There are also nonbiodegradable versions in Canon copiers and Toyota Prius floor mats.) Other firms are trying to make PLA using switchgrass, potatoes and algae.
PHA is more expensive, but it can handle higher temperatures and is the only bioplastic that will decompose in soil or waterways. (No more floating garbage.) "Disposable, one-use plastics that biodegrade seem the most beneficial for society," says Oliver Peoples, co-founder of and chief scientific officer at Metabolix, whose Mirel PHA is in Paper Mate pens and Target gift cards. "A regular plastic fork stays around for hundreds of years."
But if a biodegradable fork ends up in an airtight landfill, it will most likely remain intact, just like regular plastic. However, should moisture seep in, bioplastics could anaerobically degrade and give off methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. "When you dispose of biodegradable plastic, it decomposes into an air-pollution problem," says Tillman Gerngross, an engineering professor at Dartmouth, who used to work for Metabolix and is now one of PHA's main critics. (NatureWorks says third-party tests revealed that its PLA stayed inert.) But discarded bioplastic is not the only potential methane emitter in landfills. Kitchen scraps and yard waste emit the gas, which is one reason many garbage dumps have started capturing methane output and using it for energy.
The market for bioplastics is still relatively small, and until it gets bigger, eco-savvy consumers may have trouble dropping their bioplastics off at recycling facilities or composting centers. PLA is easy enough to recycle, but it can't be mixed with the current recycling stream. And smaller companies have yet to add sorting mechanisms like infrared technology that can separate clear bioplastic bottles from the regular, petroleum-based kind. Meanwhile, some composting centers have a blanket policy of discarding all plastic. "I direct pickers to take out plastic, which they can't distinguish from bioplastic," says Will Bakx, co-owner of and soil scientist at Sonoma Compost, a composting facility in Petaluma, Calif.
Many of the disposal issues could be resolved if manufacturers follow Bakx's suggestion and adopt a uniform color to identify bioplastic resins. Until then, Naturally Iowa is selling its PLA water bottles only in places like hotels and cafeterias, like the ones used by Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where the company can pick up and recycle the plastic waste. Says CEO Bill Horner: "We want to touch the bottle after it's used and know where it is going to go."
Breaking our petroleum addiction won't be easy. But the more pain we feel at the pump — gas prices are expected to go back up to $3 a gal. (80¢ per L) this summer — the more we'll be willing to adapt. For now, many SunChips purchasers are complaining not about the lack of industrial composting sites but about how much noise the new bag makes. "I tried to sneak some SunChips at night, and I woke my wife up," says Bob O'Connell, a compliance officer in New Port Richey, Fla. "That's how loud the bag is." Ah, priorities. For many, green still takes a backseat to convenience.