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.”

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Moving Beyond What’s Easy: Compatibilizer Report from SPI Aims to Improve Quality of Recycled Plastics, Enhance Chemical Skill Set throughout Recycling Value Chain

Plastic scrapThe plastics recycling industry presently faces an environment of lower bale quality and lower yields. It also faces increasing demand for post-consumer recycled material, right at a time when providing that material is especially complicated and costly. Rather than waiting around for bale quality to increase on its own (or for MRFs to place a greater priority on better sorting), recyclers need to become more sophisticated in order to adjust their operations to suit a new normal.

The problem of processing contaminated materials like bales of mixed multi-layer consumer plastic packaging is a chemical one, and so it makes sense to attempt to address it with a chemical solution. But chemistry, at least at the moment, isn’t a strong suit for most recyclers. “SPI is supported by polymer, additive, and machinery makers,” said Sal Monte, president of Kenrich Petrochemicals, a member of SPI’s Recycling Committee. “There are hundreds of different kinds of polymers/processes and their subset applications that all have different functions and market applications, but the recyclers who collect that plastic until recently have not had to operate at that level.”

“Most of the guys who deal with recycle are not chemists,” he added. “If they want to make useful parts that give recycled plastic a second life on a first-tier level, recyclers are going to have to become more knowledgeable about polymer material science.”

compatibilizers-whitepaper-coverEducation and innovation are key to raising the bar for the entire recycling value chain, and a new report, titled “Compatibilizers: Creating New Opportunity for Mixed Plastics,” is the SPI Recycling Committee’s latest attempt to challenge recyclers to move beyond what’s easy and push the entire recycling value chain forward in a way that yields new applications and new value for mixed post-consumer recycled plastics.

Broadly speaking, compatibilizers are additives that get incompatible polymers to “talk” to one another. They’ve historically been used successfully in both the prime resin industry and in the post-industrial plastics recycling arena to increase the value of bales comprised of select mixed polymers, but their use in the post-consumer world has been limited. That’s what the Recycling Committee’s report aims to change. It introduces readers and recyclers to the opportunities these additives present to their business, and to the economic imperative these companies have to find new solutions in a world where the process of recycling plastic materials is only getting more and more complicated.

“Recent findings suggest HDPE recyclers are suffering a 20-percent yield loss, while their PET recycling counterparts are experiencing upwards of 40-percent yield loss,” the report says. “This rate of material loss can quickly change the economics of an operation from black to red. If that yield loss could be put to use as another valuable feed stream, it can dramatically change the economics of an operation, as well as further divert valuable plastics from the landfill.” Compatibilizers are one option recyclers can consider in their efforts enhance their profits while meeting their sustainability goals.

They can also enable the right recyclers with the right expertise to find new markets for their materials by allowing them to impart more desirable qualities to the recycled resin they produce. Incompatible polymers that are recycled can’t be used practically since they delaminate during melt processing such as injection molding to make a PCR containing plastic product. Virgin polymers are also chain scissored during melt processing, giving the resultant post-consumer recycled resin lesser mechanical properties when compared to virgin resin. This limits these materials’ usage in all kinds of applications requiring performance specification polymers.

In essence, compatibilizers enable resins that would not otherwise neatly blend into a useful melt of plastic materials to mix in such a way that the recycled resins acquire greater performance qualities than if the compatibilizer hadn’t been included. They have the potential to give streams of recycled plastic the qualities they require to be more useful, if not as useful as their virgin forefathers, and therefore much more valuable. “The use of compatibilizers is being explored increasingly in the recycling industry as a way to create value in mixed feed streams that cannot be further segregated by resin type, either due to technical challenges related to collecting, cleaning and sorting, or economic infeasibility,” the report observes.

There’s a sort of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” simplicity to using compatibilizers to enhance the value of recycled materials—if you can’t fix bale quality, find a way to make bale quality matter less. But post-consumer recycling isn’t getting simpler; it’s getting more and more complex. To succeed in this environment, the recycling industry has to become more, not less, sophisticated. The Recycling Committee’s report is geared toward challenging recyclers to take their first step in that direction.

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.

 

Monday, June 8th, 2015

A Simple Matter of Visibility: Brand Owners Amplify the Plastics Industry’s Voice in Congress

US CapitolYou wouldn’t think it’d be that difficult for a $380-billion industry to get its message across on Capitol Hill, but the voice of plastics doesn’t go unheard for a lack of size or influence (and certainly not for lack of trying). The issue is more that, to many lawmakers and American voters, the manufacture of plastic materials and products is opaque. Many consumers don’t even know where plastics come from. These materials have become so ubiquitous in modern American living that they’re considered as much a part of the landscape as the purple mountains majesty and amber waves of grain.

The fact that plastics are everywhere is key to the industry’s success and a testament to its ingenuity, but it’s a blessing and a curse. Plastics play a vital role in the economy, but to get the industry’s voice heard from a regulatory perspective, plastics has to educate policymakers and officials who, consciously or not, take the plastics industry for granted.

Brand owners play a key role in amplifying this message, and doing so yields its own benefits, according to SPI Brand Owner Council Chair Jay Olson, manager, materials engineering & technology for John Deere. Olson joined some of his suppliers and other members of the plastics industry supply chain on Capitol Hill recently to help advocate on behalf of plastics and clarify the vital connection between regulations upstream and how they ultimately affect brand owners and their customers.

“They don’t necessarily recognize the names of the manufacturers or the smaller companies, so having us participating with the discussions brings instant recognition,” Olson said. “The meetings I had, they were both with legislators in rural districts, so when I said John Deere they instantly knew that it’s part of the agriculture in their district, and they say the connection of the whole supply chain and how it’s important to the end customer, and voters and jobs.”

SPI Brand Owner Council Chair Jay Olson of John Deere, Inc. (R) SPI FLiP Vice Chair Annina Donaldson of Maxi-Blast, Inc. (L) discussing the plastics industry supply chain in a recent meeting with a congressional staffer.

SPI Brand Owner Council Chair Jay Olson of John Deere, Inc. (R) SPI FLiP Vice Chair Annina Donaldson of Maxi-Blast, Inc. (L) discussing the plastics industry supply chain in a recent meeting with a congressional staffer.

“Most of the jobs are created by the smaller companies anyway, but they don’t have the visibility that brands do,” he added. “They like the visible; they don’t always see the invisible.”

Olson used the example of material deselection as a regulatory volleyball that is aimed further down the supply chain but could have serious ramifications for companies like John Deere, depending on where it lands. “With material deselection and the regulation and restriction of certain chemicals that go into the materials, that increases our costs and it makes our sourcing decisions more complex,” he said. “Say on a tractor, the fuel tanks are all plastic for a number of reasons: cost, lightweight, flexible. If we have to go back to steel, it increases our costs. It increases quality problems in the factory, so the net value to the customer of deselecting a material that we’re dependent on affects the final customer.”

Any company in the plastics supply chain can try to illustrate this to lawmakers and regulators, and many of them do, and do so successfully, but having a brand owner’s name recognition goes a long way toward getting the message to stick.

This isn’t a charitable endeavor on the part of brand owners either: using the power of their brand name to aid their suppliers ultimately helps the brand owner’s business as much as it helps the supplier. “We can be successful if we can help our suppliers be successful,” Olson said. “With all of the regulatory issues that they have to deal with that we don’t necessarily have to deal with… today we just say, oh that’s a supply chain problem. That’s the process some brand owners prefer, but it’s really everybody’s problem.”

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

House Energy & Commerce Committee Unanimously Advances TSCA Reform to Full House of Representatives

CongressSunriseViewThe House Energy & Commerce Committee voted to advance the SPI-backed H.R. 2576, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Modernization Act of 2015, Wednesday. The final vote to move the bill from the Committee to the full House of Representatives was 47-0 with one abstention.

Only one amendment was added during the committee’s markup, a small set of technical fixes and edits filed by bill sponsor John Shimkus (R-IL). Another amendment, put forth by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) that aimed to clarify the bill’s language governing the preemption of state-level chemical regulations, was also considered by the committee but ultimately withdrawn in favor of moving the bill forward.

H.R. 2576 would prevent a patchwork of overlapping and conflictual state-level rules governing chemical production and use. It would modernize the system by which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assesses risks, and also establish protections for companies’ confidential business information (CBI).

The original TSCA was enacted in 1976 and hasn’t been substantially amended since. The TSCA Modernization Act is one of two bipartisan efforts put forth by the 114th Congress to update the nearly 40-year-old legislation, the other being S. 697, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which was passed out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in April.

SPI has made TSCA reform a significant priority and continues to engage legislators and industry partners as we pursue reform that updates the regulatory infrastructure without overburdening the plastics industry with overly-rigid rules and reporting requirements.