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Total introducing bio-based resins for U.S. rotomolding industry

By: Bill Bregar

June 30, 2014

CLEVELAND — French integrated oil and gas giant Total SA is entering the North American rotational molding market for polyethylene, and is introducing bio-polymers for the sector, a company official said at a Society of Plastics Engineers conference.

Total Petrochemicals & Refining USA Inc. began making rotomolding PE in pellet and powder form in December, produced in its factory in Bayport, Texas. Total supplies two grades of the metallocene PE for rotational molding.

Total SA has produced the rotomolding resin in Europe for several years, both in PE and polypropylene, but this marks the introduction in North America, said Eric Maziers, rotomolding technologies technical manager for Total Petrochemicals.

To make the bio-resins, Maziers said Total is combining biopolymers, made from polylactic acid from its PLA plant in Belgium, with metallocene-based polyolefins. PLA is made through a fermentation process.

“It’s surprising to visit a plant if you’ve spent your career in the petrochemicals industry — it’s totally different,” he said in a presentation June 3 at the SPE Rotational Molding Division’s TopCon 2014 in Cleveland.

Total developed a technology to recycle products, such as carpeting, and convert them into lactic acid, used to make PLA, he said.

PLA has won applications for packaging, where processors and food producers tout that the material is made from renewable resources. But there are other untapped markets, Maziers said.

“Today PLA is used for packaging mainly. Is there a chance for rotomolding? We believe yes,” he told conference attendees.

But Maziers said that, for rotomolding, just being “green” is not enough — the biomaterials have to bring some property advantages, too.

And he said the material does just that. He outlined research that shows the PLA is easy to process, making transparent parts using amorphous PLA or opaque ones using crystallized PLA.

Pure PLA can be rotationally molded, and exhibits no shrinkage — which is not necessarily a good thing since it makes it tough to remove parts from the mold, Maziers said. The PLA/metallocene PE alloy solves that, while still reducing shrink.

 “It’s very, very high gloss, and it is very easy to paint,” he said.

The new material is called Bio-TP Seal. By molding parts with foam sandwiched between two skins, you can make parts that recover the original shape after compression. “Skin/Foam-skin, it has a lot of potential to give good structural properties,” Maziers said.

Ted Nugent, a rotomolding consultant in Reading, Pa., said Bio-TP Seal improves stiffness, and reduces shrinkage and warpage, and better temperature resistance.

Nugent said the very good surface finish is a major advance. He predicted new applications will come in parts with a large surface area that need warpage control, such as kayaks and surfboards.

Also, Nugent said the biomaterial will help products than take a beating — like floor cleaning equipment and trash cans — look good over the long term.