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