It's time for GE Plastics to go shopping for shoes - since two new resins launched July 27 in Tokyo have smaller carbon footprints and lower environmental impacts, according to the company.
Pittsfield, Mass.-based GE Plastics made the announcement in Japan because the new materials have drawn substantial interest from Japanese automakers, which are looking to conserve energy, lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce post-consumer waste.
The materials are Valox iQ and Xenoy iQ. They combine the firm's existing Valox-brand polybutylene terephthalate and Xenoy-brand polycarbonate/PBT alloys with 85 percent post-consumer PET. GE has devised a method to reprocess PET down to its oligomer level, providing much better performance than standard recycled PET, GE Plastics' Mark Kingsley said in a July 27 telephone interview from Tokyo.
GE Plastics had considered using bio-based materials, but settled on post-consumer PET instead.
``We've been trying to solve the biopolymer equation for a number of years, but we could never get the properties we wanted,'' said Kingsley, who serves as the firm's general manager of marketing. ``There would be brittleness or processing issues. Biopolymers are going to take more time.
``So we decided if we can't solve it from the plant to the part, we'd try to think another way, looking at what parts we can make today using the same tools. How could we make things practical and still get CO2 reduction?''
The new resins can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 3.7 pounds per 2.2 pounds of resin, according to GE Plastics. They also save up to 8.5 barrels of oil per 2,200 pounds of resin.
GE Plastics officials also said that if the new materials had replaced all standard PBT used in 2005, a market for more than 1.2 billion pounds of post-consumer PET would have been created. That's equivalent to 22.5 billion PET bottles.
In assessing the new products' environmental impact, GE Plastics worked with GreenOrder, a New York-based environmental strategy firm. GreenOrder officials said a similar switch to GE's new PBT technology would have reduced CO2 emissions by more than 3 billion pounds in 2005 - equal to planting a forest with an area of almost 400 square miles.
Currently, Valox iQ and Xenoy iQ are being tested by customers in Japan and the U.S. The materials can be produced at any GE Plastics compounding site worldwide and are expected to be in commercial production by the fourth quarter of 2006.
The new resins could appear in parts such as handles, trim components and connectors on 2007 model vehicles, if automakers decide to make running changes. The materials can be used as drop-ins for any standard PBT or PC/PBT application, according to GE.
Further down the line, Valox iQ and Xenoy iQ could be made using starch-based organic material, although officials said such work is in the developmental stage. GE Plastics researchers also are looking to expand the technology to include thermoplastic elastomers.
Overall, the new resins are part of the Ecomagination plan launched by General Electric Co., the Fairfield, Conn.-based conglomerate that includes GE Plastics. Ecomagination, which is being applied in every GE product line, aims to introduce products that are energy-efficient and that have minimal environmental impact.
``It's become quite clear that companies are more practical in looking at how they affect the environment,'' Kingsley said.
``Students are asking about your environmental record and policy before they even decide if they want to work for your company.''
GE Plastics ranks as one of the world's largest manufacturers of engineering resins, and it also produces sheet and film products.
The business posted sales of more than $3.3 billion in the first half of 2006, representing a 1 percent increase vs. the same period in 2005.