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Green materials set to dominate K 2010

Major environmental themes, from bioplastics to nonbrominated flame retardants, will be front and center in this year's giant  polymers show—K 2010.

Major environmental themes, from bioplastics to nonbrominated flame retardants, will be front and center in this year's giant  polymers show—K 2010.

Look for a very strong emphasis on "green" materials at the world's largest polymer exhibition—K 2010 in Düsseldorf, Germany, from Oct. 27 through Nov. 3. The giant K is only held every three years and is a good barometer of where the plastics industry is heading, particularly on environmental issues. Environmental themes have been present before, but primarily in side exhibits intended to show capabilities rather than mainstream applications.

This year's K, however, will show the emergence of plastics made from renewable resources as an important player even for injection molding and food-contact applications. It's also becoming clear that bioplastic foams will make a strong run at polystyrene foam for packaging applications. Other environmental themes that have been strongly emphasized in pre-K news conferences held this summer include:

* Replacement of halogenated flame retardants with newly developed proprietary chemistries that suppliers describe as highly effective.

 * Introduction of new blends and compounds to replace polymers containing bisphenol A (BPA).

DSM Engineering Plastics, based in the The Netherlands, is showcasing a group of products organized under a banner called Eco+. Arnitel Eco+ is a thermoplastic copolyester (TPC) with a 20-50 percent content derived from renewable resources, depending on hardness. Target markets include consumer electronics, sporting goods and automotive interior. "Life-cycle analysis calculations of Arnitel Eco+ show a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, cradle to gate, of up to 50 percent versus oil-based thermoplastic copolyesters," says Francis Aussems, project manager for bio-polyesters for DSM Engineering Plastics.

New Bioplastics
DSM is also making other significant moves into bioplastics. The corporate venturing subsidiary of Royal DSM invested $20 million in Tianjin Green Bio-Science Co. to build China's largest manufacturing plant for polyhydroxyalkanoates, which are produced by bacteria that process glucose or starch. DSM is also partnering with a French company to produce polybutylene succinate (PBS), a synthetic aliphatic polyester with similar properties to PET. PBS can be made from fermentation of renewable feedstocks such as corn sugars by microorganisms.

DSM Engineering Plastics has also introduced EcoPaXX, a polyamide which is approximately 70 percent derived from castor oil.

Another global polymer producer with plenty of skin in the bioplastics game is DuPont, which led the industry with the first families of high-performance engineering resins based on renewably sourced polymers. The portfolio includes renewably sourced grades of Hytrel RS thermoplastics polyester elastomer, Zytel RS nylon and Sorona EP polyester. Toyota is now using fibers made from Sorona for the ceiling surface skin, sun visor and pillar garnish of Toyota's new model, SAI. Bioplastics comprise approximately 60 percent of the internal surface area of the SAI - a compact luxury car.

(Click here for a photo slideshow)

At least six global polymer producers exhibiting at K 2010 have developed nylons (also called polyamides) derived from castor oil. The technology was developed in Germany in the 1940s and was commercialized after World War II by a French company under the Rilsan brand name now owned by Arkema. Rilsan thrived because of its unique performance capabilities, not because of its non-petroleum origins. Other companies now producing at least partially renewably sourced nylon compounds are DuPont, Rhodia, DSM, Evonik and BASF.

Food Packaging
Pre-K announcements regarding bioplastics underscore its rapid advances in packaging applications. Metabolix and Archer Daniels Midland Co. announced that their Telles joint venture has received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance for food contact injection molding grades of Mirel bioplastic. Mirel F1005 and F1006 grades are now cleared for use in applications from frozen food storage to boiling water, including microwave reheating.

Also, Novamont, which produces thermoplastic starch compounds, is coordinating a project to develop protective foam packaging made from bioplastics. The four-year ReBioFoam project has received $4.3 million in funding under the European Union's 7th Framework Program (FP7) and involves 10 partners from eight European countries. Novamont says the aim of the project is to develop a flexible low-energy process that uses microwave technology to expand biopolymers by taking advantage of the water that is naturally present in the materials.

PolyOne has developed the reSound platform formulated with a 30-percent minimum bio-derived content. Key improvements include levels of heat tolerance and impact resistance unobtainable with neat bioplastics.

reSound compounds combine compatible engineering thermoplastic resins with bio-based polymers such as PLA, PHB, PHBV and biopolyesters. Future grades may take advantage of biopolymer resins currently in development but not yet commercially available. Initial reSound grades feature heat resistance (HDT) up to 120C (248F) and impact resistance up to 53 J/m (12 ft-lb/inch).

Unlike current biopolymers, PolyOne says reSound blends will meet or exceed performance requirements for durable applications previously considered out of reach for biopolymers, such as computer laptops, cell phones, PDAs and automotive components.

Nonhalogenated FR
Another major environmental theme at the K Fair will be the replacement of brominated flame retardants that have been banned in the European Union and some states. Albemarle is phasing out production of decabrominate flame retardants and replacing them with a line of organic flame retardants called GreenArmor under the Earthwise brand. GreenArmor is based on a proprietary polystyrene.

DSM will show Stanyl ForTii, which it describes as the only new polymer developed in the 21st century. The "T" represents terephthalate. On June 22, DSM inaugurated its new Stanyl ForTii production unit, which quadruples capacity. Stocko Contact, a German manufacturer of electromechanical components, plans to switch all its SMT connectors to Stanyl ForTii. Two new series of pin connectors are designed mainly for use in dishwashers, washing machines, dryers and refrigerators. The connectors can be assembled with lead-free reflow soldering, making this the first RAST platform that can be reflow soldered.

RAST is a new connector standard that was developed to avoid mismatched wires. Stanyl ForTii properties include excellent dimensional stability, full compatibility with lead-free reflow soldering, high stiffness and mechanical strength at elevated temperatures, high melting and glass transition point, as well as excellent processability in terms of flow and processing window.

In another application development, FCI, a supplier of interconnect products, has approved halogen-free V-0 Stanyl ForTii for its FPC connectors product line of optical disk drives and is currently expanding the usage on various other connectors and sockets.

BPA Replacement
Another important environmental theme at the K Fair will be the replacement of plastics such as polycarbonate that contain bisphenol A. ViSi Mobile is a new medical device that monitors human body functions wirelessly in a classy fit-and-press assembly that uses copolyester compounds that offer transparency and mechanical properties similar to polycarbonate.

The wireless device is under development by DD Studio in concert with its client and manufacturer Sotera Wireless Inc. of San Diego, CA. It was unveiled at Canon Communications' MD&M East show in New York City. Sensors attach to a patient's arm to monitor vital signs, such as blood pressure and heart rate so that clinicians can remotely monitor patients' information. The system also includes an eight-port charging station. One of the benefits of the device is the ability to capture continuous blood pressure measurement for ambulatory patients without the need for frequent cuff inflation.

"When Sotera Wireless approached us with this medical-device design concept, it wanted the look and feel of a small, user-friendly consumer product, but had a number of specific demands. The device had to be chemical-resistant, durable, easy-to-clean and submersible under water. We weren't sure the design was possible," says Michael Swartz, growth strategist, DD Studio. The device's lens, housing, printed circuit board assembly and connectors are made with Eastman Tritan copolyester MX711.

DD Studio relied on compatibility samples and testing results from PolyOne to select GLS Versaflex OM 3060 TPE, which adheres to the copolyester substrate to seal the device housing, including speaker port and microphone, from water seepage and protect internal electronics.

The housing components use a two-shot injection molding process, combining Versaflex TPE with the Eastman copolyester substrate. In addition, insert-molded Versaflex is used to hold cables in place on the four device connectors. DD Studio and the product development team worked with Phillips Plastics Corp. to ensure the manufacturability of the design. Phillips Plastics Corp. of Hudson, WI, took the designs DD Studio created and conducted a detailed DFM exercise and created market-entry prototype tooling.

Doug Smock is Contributing Editor, Materials and Assembly, at Design News

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