3rd PLA World Congress Discount

The bioplastics Magazines, 3rd PLA World Congress is just around the corner, and Andrew is busy getting himself ready for his presentation.

The congress will be bringing experts from all involved fields to share their knowledge and contribute to a comprehensive overview of today‘s opportunities and challenges and discuss the possibilities, limitations and future prospects of PLA for all kind of applications.

The event is a 2 day conference from the 27th and 28th of May 2014 in Munich, Germany.

Dr Andrew Gill will be speaking on Tuesday, 27th May on the subject of Increasing the Functionality and Performance of PLA.

As sponsors of the event, we are delighted to let you know that you can attract a “Special discount” of 10% by entering FLOREON in the “promotion code” field when booking your place at the congress.

Discount

Representatives of the Floreon team who will be available at the conference along with Dr Andrew Gill are Shaun Chatterton, Managing Director and Dr John Williams, Non Executive Director.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like to arrange to meet the team at the conference.

For further details about Floreon, check out the rest of our website. Please feel free to contact us if you require a more detailed response to your enquiry.

Floreon in 3D printing…

The first post in a while, focusing on the potential of Floreon in 3D printing! As with our other compounds, Floreon aim to maintain high PLA content whilst delivering big enhancements in performance…

The process of 3D printing is the production of a three dimensional object from a digital model.  It is achieved by adding successive layers of material laid down in different directions, which is the opposite to traditional 3D model shaping which uses a subtractive technique.

3D printing was first introduced in the 1980’s but is only now becoming more widely used in commercial markets and will soon be making big waves in the world due to the many uses of this innovative technology.

It has been predicted that the growth of 3D printing will far exceed any other product category, with the shipment of machinery increasing by 95% and market worth projected to reach billions of dollars by 2017.

Even though there has been a lot of “buzz” around 3D printing and the growth in use and popularity, there have been two big issues highlighted:

Writing out individual structures ‘line by line’ can be a time consuming process compared by simply injecting material into a ready made mould, and can also lead to a ‘stepping effect’ which leaves a poor surface finish on printed structures.

However, being able to create structures directly from a 3D model on a computer cuts out the need for expensive tooling and moulds. This flexibility has made 3D printing an ideal prototyping technology.

As speed and performance increase, the technology is now moving beyond this niche and is actually being used for the production of finished parts.

Currently most filament is produced from either polylactic acid (PLA) or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) . PLA is a popular choice because it processes at low temperatures and is made from renewable resources. ABS on the other hand has excellent performance and can be used to make more durable parts.

Like other plastics, the properties of PLA are now being enhanced through the production of compounds such as Floreon. The ultimate goal for the Floreon team in this field is to produce a PLA filament, but with the performance of ABS. Watch this space!

What is Floreon?

Ahead of ‘Innovation Takes Root‘ this February, which two members of the Floreon team will be attending I’d like to sum up what exactly makes Floreon special for anyone who might be interested. Don’t forget to visit our exhibition space at the conference!

Floreon is around 90% PLA compounded with two special ingredients that work together to both ‘toughen’ the material and also make it easier to process. We developed the material with a specific application in mind but found that the resulting blend was far more versatile than we expected, and started exploring other possibilities.

It’s best to sum up the effects with some specific examples, so:

  • In injection moulding, Floreon requires 20% lower inject pressure compared to unmodified Ingeo with identical cycle times.
  • In sheet extrusion, Floreon allowed the barrel temperature to be lowered by around 60 F (15 °C), and the screw drive current was reduced to less than half (20 amps to less than 10) compared to uncompounded PLA.
  • Floreon is far tougher than unmodified PLA, with independent testing showing that it is tougher than typical PET grades. Floreon sheet  is four times tougher than the PLA equivalent and elongation at break (tensile test, 50 mm/ min crosshead speed) is increased by around 6 times.

We’ve also observed some other exciting effects (such as a massive reduction in crystallization times, leaving the door open to rapid crystallization in the mould for heat resistant parts) but we still have some way to go here.

But other additives are available that do similar things, so what?

The special thing about our additives is that  they are effective at low addition levels (less than 10%) preserving high biobased content, but more importantly they don’t compromise the other positive aspects of PLA. Specifically, our additives are all completely degradable (certified to EN13432) and suitable for food contact.

This is in contrast to some additives which are not suitable for either composting or food contact, detracting from the great environmental credentials of PLA.

The boosts to performance and toughness occur because of a ‘synergy’ between our carefully selected additives. When compounded correctly they interact to disperse throughout the material, forming a unique polymer-polymer ‘nanocomposite’  structure with dispersed spheres which deflect stresses and energy in the finished product with minimal effect on clarity.

So, in summary Floreon is an additive technology which boosts the performance of PLA, allowing lower processing temperatures and pressures without impacting on the things that make PLA special in the first place!

Does Floreon create Methane in Landfill?

Floreon is the worlds most versatile bioplastic and has a number of end of life options. Whilst Floreon can be recycled, used for energy recovery or disposed of via industrial composting some concerns have been raised about bioplastics if they end up in landfill.

Sadly not all plastic waste does get recycled and a lot of it will still end up in landfill. This is far from an ideal scenario for any plastic. One misconception about bioplastics however is that due to the environment inside a landfill, they may degrade to produce methane.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, over 20 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat within the Earth’s atmosphere. If bioplastics in landfill were producing methane then there would be concerns about the effect on global warming.

But the reality is Floreon does not biodegrade in a conventional landfill site, and more the point neither does anything else. This is because a standard landfill site does not offer the climate needed to compost. PLA producers Natureworks have published a peer reviewed paper which demonstrates that their material (which makes up over 90% of Floreon) is stable in landfill conditions and does not produce a significant amount of methane or ‘biogas’ (1).

Whilst landfill is not a desirable end of life option, bioplastics like PLA and Floreon compare favourably to other ‘fossil’ plastics in terms of carbon footprint because they are derived from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the first place. Plants take in the carbon dioxide and convert it into sugars which can then be fermented to produce the building blocks for plastic. To reference Natureworks again, using PLA results in 75% less greenhouse gas emissions than the oil based plastic it replaces even if both end up in landfill (2).

(1) http://www.natureworksllc.com/The-Ingeo-Journey/End-of-Life-Options/Landfill 

(2) http://www.natureworksllc.com/The-Ingeo-Journey/End-of-Life-Options

Are bioplastics using potential foodstuff?

A question we’ve been asked a few times at Floreon now, are bioplastics using potential foodstuffs to produce plastic? This is a concern which we’re happy to address…

From 2012 to 2017 the global annual production capacity of bioplastics will increase from 1.4 million tonnes to more than 6 million (1). This staggering increase is driven by many factors, the most relevant being both the availability and renewability of biomass. High consumer acceptance of renewable bioplastics makes them an attractive choice compared to fossil materials which are made from finite oil resources.

Bioplastics typically require a carbohydrate source for production. Carbohydrates can be fermented to produce the basic units (monomers) for further processing to make bioplastic. In the case of polylactic acid (PLA, the leading biodegradable and biobased plastic) corn starch is converted to dextrose which is then fermented to make lactic acid. The lactic acid is then converted to lactides for polymerisation to high performance polylactic acid.

The increasing volumes of bioplastic production have led to a debate about using potential foodstuffs (corn, sugar) to make plastic. In fact, Floreon has been asked on a few occasions; “Floreon is a corn-based material, is this using potential foodstuff out of the food chain that could be used to feed starving children?”

Our short answer to this is no. Growing food, feed and using pastures accounts for about 97 percent of the global agricultural area, biomass grown for material use only counts for approximately 2 percent, of this 2 percent – bioplastics account for less than 0.01 percent, and even to satisfy the predicted demand for 2017 this will only rise to around 0.02 percent (2). This difference in volume shows just how little biomass is used for bioplastics production and how it will have no effect on food and feed.

Looking to the future, a more diverse range of feedstocks are in development. Corn is currently the main carbohydrate source for PLA production since it is economical and abundant, but several new generations of feedstock are in development. In the short term, this will be diversified to other locally abundant sources such as sugar cane or sugar beet. Beyond this, second generation lignocellulosic feedstocks such as straw and waste biomass will be utilised. For the distant future, the agricultural step may be completely cut out as new technologies are developed to convert carbon dioxide or methane directly to lactic acid.

Further information on feedstocks for PLA can be found on the Natureworks website (3).

(1) http://en.european-bioplastics.org/market/

(2) http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/publications/EuBP_FactsFigures_bioplastics_2013.pdf

(3) http://www.natureworksllc.com/The-Ingeo-Journey/Raw-Materials#feedstocks

Floreon does… Blown Film!

A further demonstration of the versatility of Floreon, on equipment at the University of Bradford the material has been successfully used to produce blown film.

Blown Film Extrusion of Floreon

Blown Film Extrusion of Floreon

On a processing line used to run more typical materials such as polyethylene, Floreon formed a stable bubble and was collected as a clear and transparent film. From the pictures shown in this post it can be seen that Floreon looks as good as (if not better than!) the polyethylene used to set up the line without any adverse impact on stability.

Close Up of Floreon Film Extrusion

Close Up of Floreon Film Extrusion

The optimal blend of Floreon additives allowed the material to be extruded with lower load placed on the extruder compared to the basic material. Further tweaks are now in the pipeline but the trial was an excellent starting point for Floreon in this process, which is often difficult with some bioplastics.

Blown Film Extrusion of Polyethylene

Blown Film Extrusion of Polyethylene on Line Used for Floreon

PLA Gets Tougher

Did you know that PLA can now be made up to four times tougher?

The groundbreaking plant-based polymer blend, Floreon, is revolutionising the way people think about bioplastics. PLA is quickly becoming a popular alternative to many traditional petroleum-based plastics, but Floreon has developed the number one performing bioplastic.

Floreon is a specially formulated compound, which is added to PLA to create an innovative material with a natural origin and numerous end of life options. This gives the consumer a product which can boost the performance of standard PLA but still carries the environmental message.

Floreon offers significant benefits over other commonly used fossil-based plastics.

Performance

Floreon is a compounded product that boosts the performance of PLA in selected applications. One key improvement is the higher toughness, it is four time tougher than standard PLA (tested via falling dart impact on PLA and Floreon sheet) and almost twice as tough as PET (Notched Izod, injection moulded specimens). Again, this is achieved at very low addition levels compared to other additives for PLA, maintaining bio-based content and end of life options.

The high modulus (stiffness) of PLA is maintained whilst boosting the toughness of the material, so Floreon items can still hold their shape as well as regular PLA. Floreon is easy to process, mould and form and has also been used for lithographic printing.

Not only has this bioplastic seen improvements in performance, but it has excellent gloss and transparency, it is completely safe and has passed independent food contact testing by Smithers-Rapra. It can be processed by extrusion, injection molding, film and sheet casting, and spinning, providing access to a wide range of applications.

Environmental

The manufacture of PLA results in 60% lower greenhouse gas emissions and requires 50% less non-renewable energy than similar plastics, such as PET and polystyrene (PS) (1). PLA also processes at much lower temperatures than other plastics such as polycarbonate, resulting in additional energy savings. Additional end of life options for PLA include (industrial) composting and feedstock recovery.

Floreon boosts the performance of this green material without compromising any of its green credentials. In fact, Floreon can make PLA easier to process at low temperatures by lubricating the melt and increasing the melt flow index. The additives in Floreon are effective at very low addition levels, preserving the high biobased content and in certain applications can be completely biodegradable if required (certified to EN13432).

Sustainability

PLA can be made from any source of fermentable sugar, and in the case of Floreon this is currently corn starch. The use of polymers derived from renewable resources offer benefits to society and the environment by reducing the demands for fossil resources.

Oil prices show a great degree of variability. At the moment, the cost of PLA is very stable and is close to achieving cost parity with other plastics. The global production capacity of PLA will more than double over the next few years and in the long term alternative feedstocks for PLA production will make the material far cheaper.

Recyclability

Recycling of PLA is already a reality and Floreon blends are in development containing various amounts of recycled PLA (rPLA). Many independent studies have shown how PLA can be successfully sorted from other plastics and further information can be found on the Natureworks website. We are currently working with a leading PLA recycler to verify that Floreon blends can be recycled with unmodified PLA.

As the volume of PLA items in the general waste stream is relatively small, few recycling facilities actively sort post-consumer PLA for recycling, although this will change as volumes increase. Even so, Floreon has a wide range of end of life options.

End of life

Whatever the end of life scenario, the lower energy use and greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the production of Floreon offer benefits over the current situation with oil-based plastics.

One exciting possibility in the late stages of commercial development for PLA/ Floreon is feedstock recovery, where the base polymer (polylactic acid) is converted back to the feedstock (lactic acid) which can then be polymerised back to virgin PLA, avoiding the downcycling associated with other plastics.

Floreon can be formulated to be industrially compostable where applications suit.

Whilst PLA recycling is already a reality, the current volume of PLA usage means this is not yet fully exploited to maximum potential. Despite the technical feasibility, PLA is seldom sorted from mixed plastics waste as the volumes are not yet attractive or economically feasible for recycling facilities to do so. Despite this fact, these materials still compare favourably over oil based plastics in the general waste stream.

If not sorted from mixed waste, these plastics will either be used for energy recovery or disposed of in landfill. Since bioplastics are derived from renewable resources, when incinerated they are effectively a renewable energy source as the carbon contained in the plastic has been taken from the atmosphere by plants and is simply being returned to the atmosphere in a short carbon cycle.

Finally, should PLA items end up in landfill then they will not degrade. However, the energy used to produce the items and the greenhouse gases released in their production are still lower than many other plastic items that have also been disposed of in this way.

(1) http://www.natureworksllc.com/The-Ingeo-Journey/Eco-Profile-and-LCA