New polymers rise to technical challenges

Paul Boughton

The latest developments in polymer technology are aimed at meeting not only requirements for better blow moulding, polyethylene nucleation and lightweight but strong under-the-bonnet applications. Eugene McCarthy reports.

Sabic has announced that its high-performance HDPE ICP 5602 material for industrial containers is now commercially available. The breakthrough high-density polyethylene (HDPE) - developed collaboratively with Mauser, a leading producer of industrial packaging - is designed for blow moulding of tight head drums with a capacity of 25 to 220 litres.

HDPE ICP 5602 resin combines very high impact and rigidity with excellent processing performance and optimal resistance to stress cracks and chemicals. Most significantly, this material delivers improved melt flow for higher productivity and reduced energy usage, and its granular form - a departure from traditional powders - prevents waste, increases machine efficiency and permits safer product handling.

The resin is designed to be used for the production of UN-approved containers - subject to government approvals and registrations. The company says that it is therefore ideal for storage and transport of high-value or hazardous liquids. In addition the material is approved for food contact applications.

By utilising the new resin grade for industrial containers, Mauser has been able to increase efficiency in the production of high level performing tight head drums. Furthermore the granulate form of the material is an advantage in regard to material handling and cleanness in the factories.

"Our industry-leading R&D capabilities enabled Sabic to create a completely new product line in just 18 months. By enhancing performance and processability and even developing a more useful granular form, we met Mauser's needs for true innovation. This collaboration is now benefiting the entire industrial container industry," said Mario Scholle, business manager HDPE - Sabic region Europe.

In a separate development, Sabic Innovative Plastics has won an award in Aviation Week's first annual suppliers' innovation challenge competition, recognising new and recent technology developments by tiered suppliers in the aerospace and defence industry.

The company's lightweight, rigid Ultem polyetherimide (PEI) foam, used as the structural core in multi-layer systems for aviation interior components, won the composites category. According to Sabic, this achievement illustrates its strong focus on partnering with aviation industry OEMs to help them succeed by meeting tough safety, regulatory, sustainability and economic requirements.

Ultem foam enables aircraft designers to leverage the best-in-class flame, smoke, toxicity (FST) performance of Ultem resin in a form that is 10-20 times lighter than traditional plastic components. It is an ideal thermoformable core material for composite structures such as luggage bins, galleys and lower wall panels, says the company (Fig.1).

DSM has entered into a strategic cooperation with Russian company KuibyshevAzot (KA) relating to the marketing and sales of engineering plastics in Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The agreement also includes production of engineering plastics compounds in a plant located at Togliatti in Russia. The strategic cooperation between DSM and KA will also result in a license grant under DSM's proprietary cyclohexanone technology to be applied at KA's Togliatti caprolactam plant, resulting into a further increase of its capacity to meet the growing demand for this polyamide6(PA6) intermediate.

Nico Gerardu, member of the DSM managing board and responsible for the performance materials cluster, commented: "Russia is an increasingly important market for engineering plastics and it is expected that the market for PA6 will double in the next five years. With our partnership with KA I expect that DSM Engineering Plastics will be in an excellent position to capitalise on this anticipated growth. Furthermore, I see the license agreement for cyclohexanone as further recognition of our technology leadership."

The joint venture will concentrate on PA6, both in compounds and high viscosity applications including film. DSM Engineering Plastics will hold a 51 per cent stake in the joint venture.

DSM Engineering Plastics also intends to acquire 80 per cent in the engineering plastics compounding plant located on KA's manufacturing site in Togliatti. As such, DSM says it will be the first western PA6 supplier with its own manufacturing presence in Russia and the CIS.

High heat resins

Following the successful introduction in 2007 of Stanyl Diablo OCD2100, a high-performance grade of Stanyl for under-the-bonnet (UTB) applications, DSM has introduced new Diablo high heat resins: Stanyl Diablo OCD2300 and Akulon Diablo injection and blow moulding grades.

These products are a direct response to some of the main trends in the automotive industry, including weight reduction. The new materials also facilitate system cost optimisations and productivity gains, long-term sustainability and reduced environmental impact.

Stanyl Diablo OCD2300 is an innovative high heat PA46 material developed specifically to meet the need for long-term temperature resistance at elevated temperatures of up to 230°C. Stanyl Diablo OCD2300 joins the family of Stanyl Diablo grades that offer a key improvement in long-term thermal stability. This technology, developed by DSM, extends the functional life of components well beyond the limits of other high-temperature polyamides.

By limiting thermal oxidative breakdown, Stanyl Diablo withstands more than 3000 hours at aging temperatures of 230°C before its tensile strength is less than half of its initial value, and short term temperatures of 260°C.

Requirements for under the bonnet (UTB) applications are changing constantly. Environmental requirements, EURO 5 and 6 legislation and the call for reduced fuel consumption have resulted in significant changes, for example the use of smaller engines with higher turbo pressures and exhaust gas recirculation. As a consequence, automobile UTB components such as air ducts, air intake manifolds and charge air cooler end-caps are exposed to continuously rising operating temperatures. With increasingly critical temperature and tougher life time requirements, long term service life of components made from current thermoplastics can be at risk.

According to DSM, Stanyl Diablo OCD2300 is currently the only high performance PA that can withstand these temperatures whilst offering better mechanical properties than other high performance polymers for these applications. For its part, Akulon Diablo is a high heat PA material that bridges the gap between Akulon PA6 and PA46 Stanyl Diablo. This high performance grade of Akulon was developed specifically for use in air/fuel systems, which may be subject to temperatures of up to 210°C continuous use, and even 230°C over shorter periods.

Nucleation of PE

Meanwhile, Ghent-based Milliken says it has overcome one of the toughest challenges in the plastics industry - successful nucleation of polyethylene (PE).

Hyperform HPN-20E, currently the most efficient PE nucleation agent available globally, enables higher peak crystallisation temperatures that can cut cycle times and drive productivity improvements of 10 to 20 per cent depending upon processing and resin design. It can also increase oxygen and water vapour barrier performance between 20 and 40 per cent depending upon processing and resin design, providing the possibility of extended shelf life of perishable contents such as dry foods, dairy products, vitamins and nutraceuticals.

Hyperform HPN-20E and other upcoming Milliken nucleation solutions support sustainability by enabling broader use of PE, an easily recycled plastic, in diverse packaging applications. This technology is appropriate for high-density polyethylene (HDPE) used in blown film, extrusion blow moulding and injection moulding, as well as in linear low density PE (LLDPE), especially C4 gas phase LLDPE.

Frankfurt home to global innovation centre

Swiss specialty chemicals company Clariant is planning to expand global R&D activities at its site in Frankfurt, Germany. The new, 23000m2 Clariant Innovation Centre is due to be completed by the end of 2012 and will provide space for 500 people.

The planned centre will be located in the Frankfurt-Höchst industrial park and represents an investment of more than 50 million Euros. When complete, it will closely cooperate with all of the R&D satellite sites in Gendorf (near Munich, Germany), Lamotte (France) and Suzano (Brazil) as well as 40 application centres around the globe.

Clariant invested well over 130 million Swiss Francs in R&D in 2010.

"After the completion of the successful restructuring, innovation in combination with an increased strategic focus on profitable growth will be a key cornerstone for our company. The goal is to establish Clariant as an innovation leader in the field of specialty chemicals within the next few years," said ceo Hariolf Kottmann.

"Our product innovations will also address current megatrends such as renewable energies, energy efficiency and renewable resources with a view to opening up new business opportunities beyond current markets. A market- and customer-focus will remain at the centre of our activities," added Christian Kohlpaintner, executive committee member of Clariant with responsibility for R&D.