High performance, sustainable materials solutions

Paul Boughton

Chemical companies are investing in new technologies and plants in order to manufacture high-performance, sustainable materials for growing markets. Eugene McCarthy reports.

SABIC's Innovative Plastics is significantly boosting capacity for its STAMAX long glass fibre-filled polypropylene (LGFPP) composite resins at its manufacturing facility in Genk, Belgium, to meet rapidly growing demand from automotive customers (Fig. 1).

The company has already begun work on a new production line - slated to open in the second half of 2013 - to further its ability to provide a secure and reliable local supply of this high-performance SABIC material leading to reduced fuel consumption and emissions.

SABIC's STAMAX LGFPP composite resins offer several advantages over other materials in automotive applications. Compared to steel, the composite resins are light in weight, do not corrode and facilitate parts integration that can streamline the vehicle assembly process. According to the company, this high-performance material also provides excellent strength and dimensional stability, high flow for thin-wall structural components and exceptional design freedom. In addition, STAMAX composite resins provide high heat deflection temperatures, high stiffness, low thermal expansion and low creep.[Page Break]

These properties are leading to diversification in the applications for STAMAX composite resins. The material - widely used in automotive front-end modules, door modules and seating structures - is now used on tailgate structures and is also making inroads in under-the-hood applications where heat is non-critical.

Songwon Industrial Group, the global number two supplier of polymer additives, has extended its lead in the delivery of one pack systems (OPS) products by commissioning an additional 7000 metric tonnes capacity.

Following the announcement in December of 2011 of the acquisition of Additives Technology Greiz (ATG) in Germany, making Songwon a leading supplier of OPS product solutions, the promised expansion of the current capacity is now confirmed and will be up and running in the near future.[Page Break]

"The new capacity doubles the current volume to 14,000 metric tonnes," stated Jongho Park, chairman and ceo of Songwon Industrial Group. "We made a promise when we acquired ATG to extend the capacity of our Songnox OPS products up to 12,000 metric tonnes. However, the reaction we have had from our customers has led us to commit additional investment such that we can now deliver an additional 7000 metric tonnes of product to meet their demands."

The Songnox High Heat OPS range offers customers a complete toolbox for designing tailor-made solutions to meet the requirements of longer service life and durability under harsh conditions for end-use applications such as in the automotive industry.

OPS products combine a wide variety of complex additives into an integrated dust free, pellet form, can be custom formulated and offer a number of key advantages such as uniformity and certified composition (Fig. 2). Songwon says that OPS products are also extremely cost effective as they reduce the actual dosage of individual additives due to more accurate feeding as well as simplified quality control procedures.

Based in Enschede, The Netherlands, Yparex has become the first supplier in the packaging industry to develop and commercialise an adhesive tie layer for multilayer packaging films that is bio-based.[Page Break]

Since this tie-layer resin is derived from 95 per cent annually renewable resources and is fully recyclable, yet meets the same performance specifications as non-renewable petroleum-based polymer of the same family, it offers packaging manufacturers the opportunity to make their products more sustainable because plant precursors sequestered greenhouse gases during their life cycle.

However, it also helps protect the packaging industry's supply chain from price spikes of materials closely tied to the cost of oil and natural gas.

There is currently significant debate about which direction the packaging industry should and ultimately will take to become more environmentally friendly, with many different initiatives being proposed.

Producers are consistently designing thinner and lighter packaging that does more (offers higher functionality) while using less material; suppliers have found ways to source more environmentally benign raw materials; and still other companies have started numerous recycling initiatives to reduce post-consumer waste.

As consumers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have increased pressure on the packaging industry to reduce its environmental impact, the packaging industry has naturally turned to its supply base and asked for help.

Yparex's response was to develop a bio-based version of the company's popular Yparex brand adhesive tie-layer resin for multilayer barrier-packaging producers.[Page Break]

Adhesive tie layers are special polymers used in very popular multilayer films that bond together dissimilar resins that otherwise would not adhere to each other. Such films are then used in rigid or flexible barrier-packaging structures that prevent passage of oxygen into the package (causing spoilage or contamination) and keep flavour and odours from leaving the package (leading to prematurely stale products), extending the shelf life for meat, cheese, and other perishable foods.

The new extrusion grade is suitable for blown or cast multilayer film structures that use common barrier resins like polyamide (PA, also called nylon) and ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH). The new polymer is the first of what the company hopes will become a growing family of bio-based 'green' tie layer grades. Since the plant-based resin behaves exactly as the same grade of petroleum-derived resin does, it is a perfect drop in solution for packaging manufacturers looking to lower their carbon footprint and offer their customers a more sustainable product.

DSM Dyneema has announced several important new accomplishments at its ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) materials manufacturing facility in Greenville, USA.

These include the opening of a new facility for the manufacture of Dyneema ballistic tape; the critical role the company played in Ceradyne successful development of the new enhanced combat helmet (ECH) for the United States Marine Corps and Army, and ongoing investment in cutting-edge product development.

One example of next-generation solutions is DSM Dyneema's HB80 unidirectional (UD) composite - one of the highest-performing ballistic materials on the market today.

The Greenville plant is now the site for the new large scale facility that will manufacture Dyneema ballistic tape for the defence and law enforcement industries, as well as other developing applications.

Application areas include both body and vehicle armour such as spall liners, inserts and shields.[Page Break]

Bio-based succinic acid gets go-ahead

Reverdia, the joint venture between Royal DSM and Roquette Frères, has been formally approved by the relevant regulatory authorities. Reverdia aims to build on its emerging leadership position for bio-based succinic acid through its proprietary production technology and by ensuring reliable supply to meet the evolving market demands. Reverdia combines DSM's expertise in materials sciences and biotechnology together with Roquette's know-how in plant-based raw material processing.

Bio-based succinic acid is derived from non-fossil feedstock and produced with sustainable production technologies that minimise carbon footprint. It is a building block that can be used in the manufacture of polymers, resins and many other products. Key applications include footwear, packaging and paints.

Reverdia will be the first in the world to have a large scale facility for the commercial production of bio-based succinic acid, which will be marketed under its Biosuccinium brand. It will benefit from the best and most sustainable fermentation technology to produce bio-based succinic acid, which has been in development since 2008.

The new facility, scheduled to be operational shortly, will have a capacity of about 10,000 tonnes and is located on the Roquette site in Cassano Spinola, Italy.

A demonstration plant on the Roquette site in Lestrem, France, has been operational since January 2010 to validate and optimise the technology as well as to provide pre-commercial samples for application development. "The demonstration plant provided an excellent opportunity to gain technical experience on the production process of Biosuccinium. Combined with the expertise we have with the scale-up of processes and installations, we expect a smooth start-up of our commercial plant in Cassano," says Jean-Pierre Vannier, operations director for Reverdia.