6 Promising New Ways to Make Bio-based & Renewable Plastics

As bio-based and renewable plastics become more common the raw materials used for feedstock are also getting more varied.
  • Teknor Apex, Gumdrop Ltd., Gum-Tec TPE

    UK-based Gumdrop Ltd. recycles pre- and post-consumer waste chewing gum into a raw material called Gum-Tec for thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs). The company asked Teknor Apex to apply its expertise as a leading custom compounder, especially in TPEs, to develop and produce compounds from this material. The challenge was to come up with formulation and manufacturing techniques for a new type of raw material, to produce commercial-scale quantities of compounds that consistently meet the requirements of specific applications. Those requirements include optimized elasticity, compression set, tensile properties, and other mechanical properties, plus processability. The new TPE compounds contain up to 30% of the chewing gum-based raw material. They can be formulated for either glossy or matte finishes, readily accept colors, and are recyclable. Commercial applications for the Gum-Tec TPE compounds include Wellington boots, caster wheels, automotive bumpers and floor mats, shoe soles, window gaskets, and wristwatch straps. (Source: Teknor Apex)

  • Covestro, CO2, PU foam

    After several years of R&D, Covestro has launched industrial-scale production of plastics incorporating 20% carbon dioxide (CO2) in place of petrochemical raw materials, at the company's production plant in Dormagen. The new type of polyol is a core building block for making polyurethane (PU) foam. It has been engineered initially for flexible PU foam to be used in mattresses and upholstered furniture. The foam achieves at least the same high standards as conventional material produced using only crude oil. In addition to flexible foam, the company is also working on manufacturing many other plastics with CO2, including a rigid PU foam we've told you about. (Source: Covestro)

  • DuPont, Entira EP copolymers, additives, compatibilizer

    DuPont Performance Materials' new series of Entira EP copolymers are high-performance compatibilizers that boost the performance of recycled polyolefins to a level similar to virgin resins. Based on ethylene copolymers, they create a homogeneous recycled resin from mixed waste streams of polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE). Previously, mixing these two materials would contaminate each other, making it difficult or impossible to  process resulting feedstock using standard polymer extrusion or injection technologies. Entira EP improves the performance and surface properties of objects manufactured with the recycled resin. It's also being used for compatibilizing polypropylene (PP) with polyvinylbutyral (PVB) in commercial applications such as this automotive part used in sound deadening. (Source: DuPont Performance Materials)

  • Struktol, recycle, additives
    New process additives from Struktol add greater processing efficiency to reclaimed/recycled plastics and polymer compounds containing recycled content. They improve processing characteristics for compounding, molding, and extrusion of 100% recycled material, from polyolefins to engineered plastics, or materials with varying levels of post-consumer or post-industrial recycled content. STRUKTOL TR 229 is for use in polycarbonate (PC) and PC/acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) blends, as well as nylon 6 and 6,6 compounds. TR 219 is for use in nylon 6 and 6,6 compounds, and is also effective in polyester (PET and PBT) compounds, especially recycled or recyclate-containing applications, or polyester compounds contaminated with other plastics. STRUKTOL RP 38, RP 37, RP 11, and RP 06 are for recycled polypropylene (PP). RP 17 can be used in a variety of polymer resins and compounds for lubrication, mold release, and odor reduction. TR 052 is beneficial for incorporating regrind/recycled product in a wide range of polymers. (Source: Struktol)
  • Modern Dispersions, ECOBlack, recycled

    A new line of black masterbatches that contain 100% recycled content, called ECOBlack, has been launched by Modern Dispersions. They are made of 100% recycled carbon black from post-consumer tires, providing a sustainable alternative to conventional carbon black. The polyethylene (PE)-based masterbatch provides the same performance as many standard grades of carbon black. It offers a cost savings from 5% to 10% over standard grades, and can be used in traditional applications such as film, sheet, and molded items. Modern Dispersions has already trialed the new black masterbatch in several automotive and office furniture applications. The new material is used at typical masterbatch letdown ratios of between 2% and 5%. (Source: Modern Dispersions)

  • BASF, ecovio EA, foam

    BASF's new ecovio EA is the first expandable, closed-cell foam material that's biobased and certified compostable. The patented particle foam's properties are similar to those of expanded polystyrene (EPS), including excellent energy absorption and resilience even when subjected to multiple impact loads. This makes it especially suitable for transport packaging of high-value or delicate goods that require a high level of impact resistance and robustness. Ecovio EA contains the biodegradable BASF polymer ecoflex plus polylactic acid (PLA), which is derived from corn or other sugar-generating plants like manioc. The material can be easily processed as a drop-in solution on existing EPS machines, including both pre-expanders and molding equipment, as well as on expanded polypropylene production machines. Process parameters generally must be adapted to the material's shorter steaming time, and mold geometries adapted to a 1.5% shrinkage rate. Particle size is currently 1.05 mm; an 0.8 mm particle size is under development. (Source: BASF)

As bio-based and renewable plastics become more common, and more plentiful, the raw materials used for feedstock are also getting more varied. This slideshow includes a new thermoplastic elastomer (TPE ) made from pre- and post-consumer waste chewing gum, and a new line of black masterbatches that contain 100% recycled post-consumer tires.

While many, many R &D attempts have been made to harness overly plentiful carbon dioxide for chemical feedstocks, few have made it all the way to commercialization on the industrial scale. After many years of intensive effort, chemical giant Covestro has achieved that goal, as we tell you in the following slides. Additives that aid recycling are also becoming more important, and we feature two of those. We also tell you about a first: BASF's new ecovio EA is the first-ever expandable, closed-cell foam material that's biobased and also certified compostable, making it a green replacement for expanded polystyrene (EPS).

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Ann R. Thryft is senior technology editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 29 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.


Jerald Cogswell's picture
It's exciting that whole companies can be built on recycling. So why do fossil fuel companies fight to keep doing the same thing? Can't they reinvent themselves as energy (including alternative energy) companies and recycling companies and makers of products like these plastics that sequester carbon? Why fight for the same old buggy whip tech? @Exxon @Coal -- get CEOs and CFOs with vision.

Jerald, while your comment makes eminent good sense, it is extremely difficult for very large corporations to make the shift to radically different technologies, even if they see the eventual end of their current one. All their current capital, expertise, and people is built around the old technology. Kodak is an example in the photographic film industry that tried and failed to do this.

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