Monday, July 27th, 2015

Zero Energy Homes – Made Possible by Plastics

Imagine a home that produces its own electricity. At times it may use some energy from the power grid, and at times it may give some back. But in the end, the give and take balance out.

We actually do not have to imagine, because these homes already exist. And plastics play a fundamental role.

Zero Energy Homes

They are known as “zero energy” homes. Zero energy does not mean the homes use no energy for heating, cooling, and electricity. It simply means that the homes’ own energy supply is equal to the homes’ energy use. As noted, the homes at times may use energy from the community power grid and at other times may provide energy to the grid, but over time the home is net energy neutral, which is why they sometimes are called “net zero-energy.”Zero Energy Home

Homes that actually produce more energy than they consume over time are called “positive energy” or “net positive energy” homes.

These homes now are a reality, through a combination of passive energy sources such as solar and geothermal and a proper design with modern plastic foam insulation and other materials.

Wasted Energy

Nearly 40 percent of our nation’s energy is consumed in our homes and buildings, and heating and cooling account for most of the energy use in a typical U.S. home, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Unfortunately, much of it is wasted due to outdated building practices. In addition, EIA estimates that six percent of energy is lost in transmission over power lines. Wasted energy not only hurts our environment, it hits our wallets, as well.

Zero energy homes can contribute significantly to our nation’s efforts to improve energy efficiency in two ways—by providing passive electricity on site and eliminating long distance transmission power loss.

NIST

How do we know this really works? The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) built a “Net Zero Energy Residential Test Facility” near Washington, DC, in 2013. On its July 1 one-year anniversary, NIST announced that the home produced more energy than it used, enough to “power an electric car for about 1,440 miles.”

NIST found that “instead of paying almost $4,400 for electricity—the estimated average annual bill for a comparable modern home in Maryland—the virtual family of four residing in the all-electric test house actually earned a credit by exporting the surplus energy to the local utility.”

The house achieved this “despite five months of below-average temperatures and twice the normal amount of snowfall.”

What Role Do Plastics Play?

Insulation obviously is key to reducing energy loss in any home, zero energy or not. While each building is unique, zero energy homes typically rely on modern plastic foam insulation systems under and around the foundation, in the walls, and in the roofing, which can dramatically decrease the amount of energy needed to heat and cool a home. Many of these insulation products do not simply increase R-value—they also help reduce leaks and air loss to seal the building envelope.

And these are not novel or unique insulation systems—they all are available to homebuilders.

For example:

  • Sheets of polystyrene foam under and around the home’s foundation create a barrier and insulate the floors and walls. Foundations are poured directly onto the insulation sheets, which also are attached to below-grade foundation walls.
  • Insulated concrete forms—usually expanded polystyrene forms that stack and are filled with concrete and rebar to create walls—provide excellent insulating properties and create a very solid building.
  • Structural insulated panels typically sandwich large sheets of expanded polystyrene foam between oriented strand board (OSB), creating large wall systems with few seams, greater R-value, and improved strength.
  • Polyiso or polyurethane foam installed under the roof system instead of in the attic floor helps seal the building against leaks and increase the R-value of the roofing system. The NIST home used this method to achieve an R-value of 75 in its roofing system, which is about twice the typical R-value. In addition, since the attic is tempered space, ductwork doesn’t shed its cool or hot air in un-tempered space.
  • The NIST building used six-inch instead of four inch-studs to increase the space for insulation between studs, plus a plastic air moisture barrier and four inches of polyiso on the exterior, which virtually eliminates thermal bridging (the transfer of heat between the interior and exterior caused by non-insulating materials).
  • While not used in all the above insulation systems, plastic house wrap significantly reduces the infiltration of outside air, helping to reduce the energy required to heat or cool the home.
  • Finally, plastic sealants (caulks, mastics, foams, tape) are applied to any remaining gaps that may exist between floors, walls, roofs, and windows, as well as around ductwork joints.

NIST estimates that its home is almost 70 percent more efficient than the average area home.

“The most important difference between this home and a Maryland code-compliant home is the improvement in the thermal envelope—the insulation and air barrier,” says NIST mechanical engineer Mark Davis. “By nearly eliminating the unintended air infiltration and doubling the insulation level in the walls and roof, the heating and cooling load was decreased dramatically.”

To actually reach zero energy, many other energy saving products made with plastics are used, such as plastic piping for radiant heat and efficient water delivery, insulated window frames clad in plastics, highly energy efficient refrigerators, and even plastic roofing tiles that incorporate solar cells in the tiles themselves instead of having to install both tiles and panels.PMIP

How much does plastic insulation and other building products contribute to energy efficiency of zero energy homes—or typical suburban homes? A one-year study by Franklin Associates found that the use of plastic building and construction materials saved 467.2 trillion Btu of energy over alternative construction materials. That’s enough energy saved over the course of a year to meet the average annual energy needs of 4.6 million U.S. households.

Future

While zero energy homes are still outside the norm, numerous events and trends are driving efforts to dramatically improve energy efficiency, from concerns over climate change impacts to substantial upgrades in building codes.

To encourage greater energy efficiency, NIST plans “to develop tests and measurements that will help to improve the energy efficiency of the nation’s housing stock and support the development and adoption of cost-effective, net-zero energy designs and technologies, construction methods and building codes.”

And according to NIST, some “states are taking steps toward encouraging or even requiring construction of net-zero energy homes in the future. For example, California will require that, as of 2020, all newly constructed homes must be net-zero energy ready.”

That is going to require help from a lot of plastics.

Previously published in Plastics Engineering and posted with permission from the Society of Plastics Engineers.

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

E-Floater, Solar-Powered Electric Scooter That Weighs Less Than 12 Kilograms

By Cynthia ShahanFor Plastics Makes it Possible

BASF and Floatility recently introduced a lightweight, solar-powered, electric scooter called the e-floater. The electric scooter weighs less than 12 kilograms (27 pounds). Urban mobility could hardly be more sustainable… wait, could it be more sustainable?Scooter

The lightweight solar-powered scooter was created with more than 80 percent composite and plastic materials. BASF reports that the plastic materials enable design freedom and streamlined construction. Jointly developed by BASF and Floatility, it is supposed to give commuters the sensation of floating. Thus, its name (e-floater).

“This is a perfect example of how we cooperate with our partners to fully unfold the strengths of our innovative materials. The e-floater combines stability, durability and safety with an exciting, functional design,” said Andy Postlethwaite, Senior Vice President, Performance Materials Asia Pacific, BASF.

Versatility in the plastic materials from BASF adds to their substantial support and development capabilities. A BASF news release states:

Molding multiple parts to create complex shapes with plastic materials enables design freedom and the streamlined construction of the ‘e-floater’. Various grades of glass fiber reinforced  will be used for most of the e-floater’s structure: While the mineral-filled Ultramid® B3M6 is used for the parts where low warpage is crucial, the impact modified Ultramid® B3ZG8 combines toughness and stiffness in a way that is favorable for structural parts that have to resist crash-loads. The surface-improved Ultramid® B3G10 SI offers high surface quality to the parts despite its high fiber content. The reinforcement for front body and deck will be made with the new Ultracom™ composite materials to ensure stability.

Together with Ultralaminate™ B3WG13, a thermoplastic laminate and the adapted overmolding compound Ultramid® B3WG12 COM, BASF also offers its processing and designing support for the development of continuous fiber reinforced parts. Tires and handlebars made with BASF’s TPU Elastollan® will provide a good grip and smooth floating.

No more long walking gaps (not that those are bad) on your last leg home from the city center or the nearest public transport stop — just step on the scooter and “float” along.

“The cooperation with BASF enables us to develop a state-of-the-art short distance urban mobility solution to provide mobility-on-demand for the future. In this way, the e-floater will play a key role in making short journeys more convenient, quick, affordable and sustainable,” Oliver Risse, Founder and CEO of Floatility, said.

Amazingly, BASF celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2015. This was a company built to last. It is “rolling out a global co-creation program with partners on the topics of energy, food, and urban living.”

Some folks, especially in Europe, like to tuck a scooter in the back of their car, or simply their backpack if they prefer public transport. Why? Christopher DeMorro explains well in “Mini Debuts Electric Scooter Instead of Electric Car.” Here’s a piece of that: “In places like New York, Paris, and Beijing, where car bans are talked about with increasing frequency, the idea of combining scooters and bikes with cars seems to be catching on with European automakers. It wasn’t long ago that Smart debuted its own line of e-bikes and scooters to supplement its little city cars, and apparently the engineers at MINI thought it was a good enough idea to take for themselves.”

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Future of Plastics: The Material of Choice for Lightweight, Fuel-Efficient Automobiles

Third Largest Manufacturing Sector Poised to Meet Growing Demand for its Innovative Products

In our report “Market Watch: Plastics in the Fast Lane,” SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association discusses an anticipated increased use of plastics in automobiles as consumers and the government demand lighter vehicles that are more environmentally friendly and competitively priced. The plastics manufacturing industry is well-positioned to meet the potential demand of the automobile industry due to technological advances driving a more sophisticated, growing manufacturing sector.

The plastics industry, which is the third largest sector of U.S. manufacturing in dollar value of shipments, is in the vanguard of innovation and nowhere is this more conspicuous than in the automotive/transportation industry. While plastics make up about 50 percent of a modern automobile’s volume, they only account for about 10 percent of its weight.

The use of plastics in lightweighting vehicles has proven to be a cost-effective way to help boost vehicle mileage for decades, a trend not expected to change as the Obama Administration has raised the average fuel efficiency standards of new cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, according to the report.plasticsmarketwatch_auto_cover

Plastics can play a critical role in enabling automakers to meet the standards. And given the inherent advantages that plastics represent compared to other alternative materials, it is extremely likely that the transportation choices of the future will use more plastic, not less.

A glance inside any modern car or truck shows the interior compartment to be dominated by plastics – from instrument panels to interior trim to upholstery. Plastics are also used in lighting, bumper systems, fuel storage and delivery systems, ducts, fenders and exterior body panels, and more and more within engine compartments or other under-the-hood components.  Likewise, the composition of aircraft, passenger trains and urban metro vehicles continues to evolve toward greater dependence on plastics.

SPI notes that consumption of plastic goods grew at a record-breaking pace in 2014 (the latest government statistics available) to $298.3 billion, up 11.5 percent from $267.3 billion in 2013. As the automotive sector relies more on plastic to replace metal parts, the increased use of 3D printing will pave the way for more innovative applications of plastic.

Impact of Millennials

Other research in the report is based upon the work of Ken Gronbach, a marketing expert and author who studies demographic and cultural trends to predict buying habits. His research shows that the Millennial Generation (born in the early 1980s to early 2000s) has “no great love affair with the automobile and when asked what they would give up first, their car or their phone, their answer is almost always unanimous – their car.”

Like generations before, the Millennials don’t seem to resemble their predecessors in that they’re slow to get married, have children – and to obtain their driver’s licenses. Perhaps they’re late bloomers – due to the economy and their heavy college loans. Whatever the case, experts agree that sooner or later they’ll come around and buy vehicles. And, since the Millennials tend to be more environmentally conscious than previous generations, it is expected that they will demand lighter, more energy efficient vehicles.

The only downside to the increased demand is the shortage of skilled talent. “New manufacturing jobs are significantly different from the rote assembly line work of earlier generations. Manufacturing is built upon advanced technologies that demand more advanced skills from workers. Employees must be able to grasp engineering concepts, work with computers, make mathematical calculations and adapt to constant change. A manufacturing worker today must have the equivalent of two years of college, usually more, and the bar keeps rising.

Manufacturing is critical to a healthy economy. Our goal should be to dominate high end manufacturing that reflects emerging technologies that are frequently found in the more advanced plastic processors in the U.S.

The report attributes the workforce shortage to Baby Boomers retiring and the trend toward off-shoring that resulted in more young people seeking a four-year degree rather entering trade school. The skills gap afflicting all of manufacturing in the U.S. is equally if not more applicable to the plastics industry. Already, many individual companies are working with local schools to make young people aware of the exciting opportunities that abound in plastics and the basic skills and knowledge they need to take advantage of them.

It is incumbent upon people in the industry to take the initiative, study what other companies are doing, recognize the learning differences of the next generation, and become actively involved in promoting plastics manufacturing as a career choice – and as the product choice!

“Market Watch: Plastics in the Fast Lane” is the first in a series of unique reports being written by SPI. Later this year, staff will publish reports on healthcare, packaging, and housing and construction.

 

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

A Simple Shift in Shipping Regulations Could Net the American Economy $27 Billion in Annual Savings

Truck in portThe shipping economy operates adjacent to the manufacturing economy, and increased efficiency in either can often yield benefits in both. The advent of plastic materials decades ago enabled trucks to carry more products for longer, all while using only a fraction of the fuel because of the lightness of plastic materials.

That’s just one example, and the industries have traded innovations back and forth for decades. Most recently, however, a new industry group comprised of some of the biggest names in the shipping world is doing its best to save manufacturers money. The Coalition for Efficient & Responsible Trucking (CERT) counts Conway, Estes Express Lines, and UPS as members, among several others. The group has only one goal: a five-foot increase in the maximum length of trailers used in double configurations, from 28 feet, to 33 feet.

The idea is elegant in its simplicity, but could still have wide-ranging effects on a multitude of sectors. According to CERT, under the current 28-foot limit, trucks routinely “cube out before they gross out,” which is to say they fill all of their available volume long before they brush up against the 80,000 lbs. gross weight limit. This, simply put, makes shipping much less efficient, and saddles businesses with $27 billion per year in avoidable, additional shipping costs. Congressional authorization to extend the trailer length to 33 feet could put those costs back in the pockets’ of companies and consumers.

It’s a practical solution arriving at just the right time for the shipping economy and those industries that depend on it. “Every year, millions of tons in goods are sent across roads in shipments that don’t quite fit in a 28-ft. trailer, but aren’t nearly enough to require a full 48-ft. or 53-ft. trailer,” CERT says in a fact sheet. “As a result, more than 6.6 million avoidable truck trips occur every year. This inefficiency is only expected to worsen: over the next decade, less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments will grow from 145 million tons to an estimated 204.6 million tons.” Before that happens, however, CERT, SPI and its other industry partners are hoping Congress authorizes the five-foot extension.

More than just reducing inefficiencies and putting $27 billion back into the economy, CERT’s suggested legislative fix will also yield significant environmental benefits. By eliminating those 6.6 million unnecessary truck trips that currently happen each year because of the currently outdated regulations, extending the length of the trucks would result in 204 million fewer gallons of fuel being used by trucks, and reduce carbon emissions by 4.4 billion pounds per year.

If you need any more reason to support CERT, on their website they note that their simple suggested legislative change would eliminate 1.3 billion miles in truck traffic nationwide, making the 42 percent of the nation’s highways that are congested much clearer, and preventing 912 crashes annually.

SPI supports CERT’s plan and stands behind their efforts. The entire $375-billion plastics industry stands behind them and looks forward to repaying the favor through innovation.

Monday, October 6th, 2014

SPI Supports APBA Referendum on California SB 270

By William R. Carteaux, President and CEO, SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association

William R. Carteaux, President and CEO, SPI

William R. Carteaux, President and CEO, SPI

As I mentioned last week in my comments at the 2014 Global Plastics Summit, California recently enacted SB 270, the nation’s only statewide plastic bag ban. SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association always has and always will advocate for science and fact-based legislation, but SB 270 does not fit this description. In a press release issued last Tuesday, the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) announced it would take the steps necessary to gather signatures and qualify a referendum to repeal it:

“The approval of SB 270 by the California legislature and Governor Jerry Brown could serve as a case study for what happens when greedy special interests and bad government collide in the policymaking process. 

“Senator Padilla’s bill was never legislation about the environment. It was a back room deal between the grocers and union bosses to scam California consumers out of billions of dollars without providing any public benefit—all under the guise of environmentalism. If this law were allowed to go into effect it would jeopardize thousands of California manufacturing jobs, hurt the environment and fleece consumers for billions so grocery store shareholders and their union partners can line their pockets.”

SPI supports the APBA in opposing SB 270 and seeking a referendum. We do not believe that in passing SB 270 California lawmakers acted in the public interest, and we trust that the public will repeal it at the ballot box.

Plastic bags are the smartest, most environmentally-friendly choice at the checkout counter. Ninety percent (90%) of Americans reuse their plastic bags as trashcan liners, pet waste bags, lunch bags, etc., despite the fact that SB 270’s proponents have attempted to brand plastic bags as “single-use.” This is a myth that’s disproven every day in homes across America. When plastic bags outlive their usefulness, they can be recycled: they are 100% recyclable and can be converted into building materials like decking, fencing and playground equipment. Moreover, they consume less than 4% of the water, generate less than 80% of the waste and require less than 70% of the energy necessary to manufacture their paper counterparts. In addition, consumers will be forced to pay at least 10 cents for every paper bag they purchase.

As for the bags that are oil-derived and made in China, which SB 270’s proponents promote, most are made from nonwoven polypropylene, which isn’t recyclable. In addition, cotton grocery bags must be used 131 times before their contribution to global climate change becomes lower than that of a plastic bag used just once. These bags also have been found to contain toxic lead and harbor harmful bacteria.

Further, plastic bags make up less than two percent (2%) of California’s municipal waste stream and just fourth-tenths of a percent (0.4%) of the overall American waste stream. Thus the bill’s environmental impact will be negligible if not nonexistent. Proponents have been forced to acknowledge this, choosing instead to label SB 270 “a good start.” For them, plastic bags are just the beginning, and plastic bottles, cutlery and other materials are now in their crosshairs.

apba logo_2012That is the issue at hand. The lack of science or logic in SB 270 sets a disconcerting precedent for what legislators could do under the guise of environmental stewardship. This should concern the plastics industry at large: unscientific bills supported by special interests could encourage bans on other plastic products. This must be the beginning of a discussion that plastics recyclers, suppliers, manufacturers and processors have about the future of the industry. The APBA has started this conversation, and we hope the entire plastics supply chain chooses to be a part of it.