Bioplastics in Valencia

image_thumb[4]The demand of materials from renewable resources will be doubled from 2014 to 2019 to reach 1.4 million hectares for their production, without competing with the surface for food, nearing 1,240 million hectares, according to Constance Ißbrücker, from European Bioplastics, in a presentation during the International Seminar on Biopolymers and Sustainable Composites, held in Valencia, Spain, on 1 and 2 March.
Organised by AIMPLAS, the international seminar brought together more than 170 professionals to update the information about the use of biopolymers in food packaging, sport and automotive applications. Innovative materials from renewable sources such as castor-oil plant, sugar cane, corn and milk whey are already present in demanding applications such as surfboards and snowboards, in the automotive and construction sectors and in high-barrier and heat-resistant food packaging. BASF showed the new biodegradable coffee capsules developed for Cafés Novellimage_thumb[2] and Renault talked about its circular economy policies and the role that biocomposites play. New developments of biopolymers for 3D printing were also launched, as well as cords for the agriculture sector and nets for the fishing sector, thanks to API INSTITUTE. AIMPLAS also presented the results of the project OSIRYS, focused on biocomposites for façades and partitions to improve the air quality.
The second day began with a review of the current standards that regulate the use of biopolymers at industrial level and then there was a space for biotechnology and production of biopolymers from natural processes, such as fermentation or from microorganisms.

Biodegradable plastic bags are a myth – PRE says

“Biodegradable plastic bags are a myth" says Prof Richard Thomson, during a public hearing on plastic carrier bags organized by the by The Greens/European Free Alliance Group in the European Parliament on February 19th. During the workshop Ton Emans, PRE President, confirmed that as little as 2% degradable material in the recycling stream is creating quality problems for recyclers.
According to PRE, the future in Europe is about developing quality plastics recyclates for producing new goods and not about down cycling and misleading the consumer about biodegradability and/or compostability of products in the environment (including marine environment). Reference was made to the EuPC study of last year where industrial scale tests were performed on PE films produced with recyclates. This independent study demonstrates the problems caused by degradable materials in the actual recycling streams.

In search of Green Polymers

For the future generations the world needs to move towards a renewable supply structure including materials and AMI is bringing together a group of concerned professionals and expert scientists at Green Polymer Chemistry 2014, which takes place from 18th to 20th March 2014 in Cologne, Germany. 

Sustainable sourcing is a big driver for major brand owners worldwide and they have set up the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative with standards that suppliers are expected to adhere to, and this will apply for bio-sourced polymers plus the additional remit not to affect food security.  How can the green credentials be certified?

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The effects of degradable plastics on recycling streams

EuPC published the results of independent industrial tests which have been carried out on the effects of degradable plastic carrier bags on the quality of plastics recyclates. These independent tests have been carried out by the Austrian research centre TCKT (the Transfer Centre for Polymer Technology), following commissioning by EuPC. EuPC initiated these tests following concerns regarding the effects of degradable plastics on the quality of plastic recyclates. The tests focused on four different mixtures of degradable plastic bags and one virgin LDPE recycling material and testing was conducted over the course of six months. During these six months of testing, more than 9.45 tonnes of plastic carrier bags were processed and over 3,700 measurements were taken.

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Bioplastics: an alternative with a future?

As a complement and in some areas as an alternative to conventional plastics, bioplastics appear to be a logical and necessary step for a modern and forward-looking pimage_thumb[6]lastics industry. And they will also of course have their place at K 2013 in Düsseldorf from 16 to 23 October. Any discussion of the pros and cons, the future role and the market potential of bioplastics makes little sense without prior clarification of the meaning of the prefix “bio-”, says Prof. Dr.-Ing. Christian Bonten of the Institute of Plastics Engineering at the University of Stuttgart, expressing his reservations.

One prefix, two meanings:

Biodegradable plastics – Apart from small quantities of substances, biodegradable plastics consist of biodegradable polymers and additives. Special bacteria and their enzymes demonstrably convert biodegradable plastics into biomass, CO2 or methane, water and minerals as soon as the macromolecules have been sufficiently fragmented by other degradation mechanisms. For a plastic to be termed “compostable” in Europe, 90 per cent of it must degrade in clearly defined conditions into fragments smaller than 2 mm within 12 weeks. Only then can composting facilities operate cost-effectively and without disruption.

Biodegradable plastics are not necessarily made from renewable resources and can also be derived from mineral oil. Biodegradability therefore depends not on the raw material, but on the plastic’s chemical structure. Examples of biodegradable polymers are polylactides (PLA), polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), cellulose derivatives and starch as well as mineral-oil-based polybutylene terephthalate (PBAT) and polybutylene succinate (PBS). Non-biodegradable, on the other hand, are polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyamides (PA), for example.

Bio-based plastics – Bio-based plastics, on the other hand, are renewable resources derived from nature. However, these are not necessarily biodegradable as well. The adjective “bio-based” merely tells us that the carbon atoms in the molecule chains come from today’s nature and are thus “bio”. At present, bio-based plastics are derived from different hydrocarbons such as those found in sugar, starch, proteins, cellulose, lignin, bio-fats and oils. Bio-based polymers include polylactides (PLA), polyhydryoxybutyrate (PHB), cellulose derivatives (CA, CAB) and starch derivatives as well as, for example, bio-polyethylene (PE). The latter is derived entirely from Brazilian sugar cane, has the same properties as conventional polyethylene, but is not biodegradable. The at least to some extent bio-based but not biodegradable polymers also include natural-fibre-reinforced conventional plastics along with polyamides and polyurethanes.

Thimagee global output

 In global polymer output, bioplastics have not so far figured highly in the roughly 235 million tonnes of plastics materials. Because of the high market growth, European Bioplastics is forecasting world production capacity for bioplastics to reach roughly 5.8 million tonnes by 2016. The study of the nova institute of March 2013 is forecasting output of over 8 million tonnes by 2016 and roughly 12 million tonnes by 2020 for bio-based plastics.

According to the manufacturers’ association European Bioplastics, biodegradable plastics at several 100,000 tonnes accounted for the lion’s share of total global capacity for bioplastics in 2009. Since 2010, the growth rates for biodegradable plastics have been far outstripped by those for bio-based plastics. According to association forecasts and despite constant growth, they will account for only about a seventh of overall bioplastics output by 2016. The far larger share of bioplastics will then be bio-based but not biodegradable

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Rising standards

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Renewables and regulations in the PVC industry

The PVC compounding industry has been shaken up in recent years by changes in chemical regulations that have removed some traditional additives from the marketplace and put new emphasis on renewable aspects including bio-based plasticisers and recycling.  There have been many voluntary agreements within the PVC associations to make advances ahead of any legal requirement and this has made them a leader in areas like recycling.  This year in Europe there will be more changes in recipes as standard biocides used in protecting many outdoor applications such as waterproof covers will have to be replaced with alternatives.  There are also discussions as to whether some bio-based ingredients require a biocide to prevent degradation. 

Applied Market Information (AMI) has organised a forum to discuss the changes at the 5th international compounding conference PVC Formulation 2013, held from 12th-14th March 2013 in Dusseldorf, Germany.  This event brings together the global vinyl industry to review new PVC additives, recipes, technology, legislation and market drivers. Vinnolit has presented a review of the PVC market in Europe, followed by a look at the PVC market in the growing Turkish economy by Mr. Ali Murat Ayar.

The profile producer Deceuninck gave a keynote paper on the advances in responsible action on the theme reduce, reuse and recover.  Reagens is part of a group aiming for the sustainable use of additives and the CEO Dr Ettore Nanni will outline this project.  The European Union has legislated against the use of heavy metals and this has affected PVC stabilization with moves away from very effective lead formulation in profiles, to new products such as Ca/Zn.  Baerlocher is showing stabilization systems in the construction industry. Naturally occurring minerals are useful not only as fillers but also as active ingredients like flame retardants and this will be demonstrated by Minelco.  Phosphate esters have flame retardant effects and plasticising properties: Lanxess points to the effect of these additives on PVC compound properties in combination with antimony trioxide, zinc borate and fillers.

The status of the current plasticisers market will be presented by the European Council for Plasticisers and Intermediates (ECPI).  There is a growing trend in the plastics industry for bio-based and natural materials. In the PVC industry this is mainly seen in the bio-based plasticisers.  In the US this gives a high percentage of renewable carbon for the USDA Biopreferred programme.  The South Americans have vast land areas for crop development and have taken a lead in supplying bio-plasticisers.  Varteco Quimica Iberica from Argentina will give an overview of this market, while PETROM – Petroquimica Mogi Das Cruzes of Brazil with its partner Proviron Functional Chemicals will show some of the new plasticisers. Hallstar has also developed natural products for this market. However, what are the effects on the rest of the recipe of this substitution?  Are these materials so biodegradable that they need microbicides to preserve the vinyl?  

The EU Biocides Directive is going to affect a commonly used ingredient: OBPA antimicrobials which are widely used in outdoor applications as a preservative will be banned. Akcros Chemicals will review the changes and the alternative formulations, and some of the provisional data on the potential need for biocides when using bio-sourced ingredients.  From Switzerland, Sanitized has studied antimicrobial protection for PVC with bio-based plasticisers.

PVC is widely used in food packaging particularly as film, and a producer and expert service provider Polycomply Hoechst will review the current standards.  From the flooring manufacturer’s viewpoint, James Halstead/Polyflor will outline the industry requirements. 

Many factors affect PVC compounding: Chemson will examine the effect and regulation of humidity. Impact strength alongside thermal stability will be the topic of Dow. Foaming is a growing technology to reduce material use and weight: Kaneka Belgium is looking at more foam with less additives.  Processing aids like PE waxes will be discussed by BASF.  Product appeal is enhanced with a good colour range and Holland Colours specialises in the PVC area.

What are the alternative additives for formulations?  What are the requirements of end-users? Are there improvements in PVC processing? How are PVC markets developing?  Is it feasible to incorporate recyclate?  These are some of the debating points at PVC Formulation 2013 conference.

More heat-resistant PLA

The packaging industry is increasingly using biopolymers made from polylactides (PLAs) as an alternative to petroleum-based plastic. They are obtained from corn starch and completely biodegradable. Previously, however, PLA began to soften at about 60 ºC, so it was not suitable for heat-intensive processes. But now, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam have found a way to make this bioplastic even more heat-resistant. An interesting application comes from the food industry: The filling of yogurt in plastic cups, because this process takes place at higher temperatures. Cups made of PLA stereo complexes retain their shape and remain stable even at temperatures of up to 120 ºC. Dr. Johannes Ganster, division director at IAP, explains the principle behind this: “To make PLA plastics more form-stable at higher temperatures, we introduced stereo complexes with special components of L-lactides and D-lactides. These right-and-left rotating molecules complement each other and make the bond even more stable.”

Corporations have already expressed interest, considering the potential. Production of biopolymers made of PLA is independent of the growing scarcity of petroleum. In addition, they can be readily composted, and they are ideal for recycling by decomposition in lactic acid. The greatest advantage is that they have since become just as durable and sturdy as any petroleum-based plastic, and can even be used for other products, such as protective films, computer housing and shopping bags. IAP is already working closely with a German factory builder that intends to incorporate the new process into its business operations soon.