Rotuba Extruders Ltd. is working with a European additives supplier and a unit of Spartech Corp. to commercialize a new type of phthalate-free cellulosic compound.
Dubbed Naturacell, the product is up and running now and should be widely more available within months, according to Hugh O'Neill, cellulosic sales director for Linden, N.J.-based Rotuba.
O'Neill said select processors have been getting excellent results running physical tests with cellulose acetate compounds produced using a European-made, phthalate-free plasticizer. The plasticizer - Rotuba President Adam Bell prefers to call it a softener, to avoid negative connotations - has been around for a while, but the New Jersey firm decided to try it in cellulose acetate compounds. Bell declined to identify the European partner.
Rotuba is making a strong green push, and ``by getting away from phthalates, it's a no-brainer,'' O'Neill said in an Oct. 30 interview at K 2007 in Dusseldorf, which he was attending. ``Anything that the new plasticizer brings to the table [performancewise] is gravy.''
O'Neill said Plastech Group Ltd. in Glenrothes, Scotland, is using the material to produce thin-wall tubing; Pratt-Read Corp.'s A&L Handles Inc. unit in Bridgeport, Conn., has been running solid rods for screwdriver handles; and Newark, N.J.-based Spartech PEP (formerly Polymer Extruded Products) is manufacturing industrial face shields.
Rotuba is hitting the sustainability theme hard with Naturacell's marketing materials. The firm describes the product as a polymer derived from trees that are raised specifically to produce cellulose, which is purified and used as the base feedstock for making products that include paper, yarns and plastic.
For plastics, cellulose is transformed into cellulose ester, which is compounded with softening agents and other additives like stabilizers and colorants to yield a finished product that can be injection molded or extruded, the company said.
Bell used a broad brush to describe the relative pricing between Naturacell and potentially competitive products: He said acrylics cost roughly $1 per pound, and cellulosics $2 a pound; while starch-based polylactic acid, or PLA, resins run between $1 and $1.25 a pound; and the next wave of highly touted ``sustainable'' resins, known as polyhydroxyalkanoates, or PHAs, are expected to cost $2-$4 per pound when they eventually become available. But he claims that not only do cellulosics offer a green alternative to petroleum-based acrylics but they can justify their cost premium over PLA in certain applications due to their better impact strength and to the fact they can be made clear in thick wall sections.
Rotuba - which last year acquired a line of specialty cellulosic compounds from Albis Plastic GmbH of Hamburg, Germany - has been producing cellulosics since 1955 and calls itself the world's largest independent maker of cellulose acetate.
Meantime, O'Neill said the firm has succeeded in landing commercial applications for its existing Auracell line of scent-infused cellulosic compounds.
Injection molder Balda AG in Bad Oeynhausen, Germany, is launching mobile phone cases and computer accessories made from the aroma-laden natural polymers. Other firms using the Auracell compound include South Korea's LG Electronics Inc. and Motorola, O'Neill said.
The materials also are finding use in point-of-purchase retail applications and in a line of Scentcessories-brand costume jewelry for teenage girls by specialty retailer Claire's, O'Neill said
In perhaps one of the more novel uses, O'Neill said Rotuba is working now with its fragrance-house partners on scented insect repellants. One potential application is on agricultural sprinkler heads, to deter spiders from building webs on the heads that eventually inhibit or block the water spray.