Plastics News senior reporter Frank Esposito collected these stories at Flexpo 2008, held June 25-27 in Galveston, Texas.
ExxonMobil develops high-melt-strength PP
ExxonMobil Chemical Co. is developing new grades of high-melt-strength polypropylene for extruded sheet and other market applications.
The new materials can be used in extruded sheet for thermoformed trays, as well as in foam and blow molding applications, according to Armen Dekmezian, ExxonMobil research scientist. In sheet, the HMS PP grades offer improved sag resistance and part definition, he said.
The grades are in various stages of development. No date for full commercialization has been set.
Cereplast to open Ind. site this month
Cereplast Inc. expects to open a 50 million-pound-capacity bioplastic compounding site in Seymour, Ind., by the end of July. The Seymour site joins a similar-sized facility in Hawthorne, Calif., where Cereplast is based.
The firm also was granted several new patents for its compostables product line July 1, according to Shriram Bagrodia, Cereplast's senior vice president of research and development.
Production in Seymour could reach as much as 500 million pounds by 2010 if needed. Cereplast uses corn, wheat, tapioca and potatoes as feedstock. Its product lines include compostables made from 100 percent renewable sources for use in food-service ware and packaging and hybrids, which are 50 percent renewable and are used in auto parts, consumer goods, electronics and toys.
The global bioplastics market was estimated at 540 million pounds in 2007, but could reach 1.2 billion pounds in 2012, Bagrodia said, as consumers and manufacturers look to move away from products based on oil and natural gas.
Peak could be near for oil and gas prices
Prices for crude oil and natural gas feedstocks are expected to remain high in the short term, but recent moderation in demand could be a sign that a pricing peak is approaching, according to energy analyst Paul Ruwe.
Demand moderation ``is one of the first things you look for'' when looking for a peak, said Ruwe, a principal with Muse Stancil & Co. consulting firm in Houston.
The recent run-up has been spurred by a number of factors, he explained, including lower production per oil well, lower reinvestment, political instability and the devaluation of the U.S. dollar.
North American plastics and chemicals makers retain their cost advantage because of the region's lower-priced natural gas feedstocks, but even that edge could dissipate as larger supplies of liquefied natural gas become available around the world, Ruwe said. Mild winter and summer weather have helped North America keep this advantage in recent years.
Bioplastics do battle in polyolefins market
New and emerging bioplastics have a market opportunity in existing polyolefin applications, according to industry analyst J.N. Swany of Chemical Market Resources Inc.
``Even minor penetration into polyolefins could provide cash flow for bioplastics to continue [research and development] efforts and compete on the side as well,'' Swany said. ``Bioplastics and polyolefins also should cooperate through blending. In theory, 20 percent of the polyolefin market is open to bioplastic substitution.''
In some cases, polylactic acid bioplastic already can provide better printability compared with polypropylene and low density polyethylene in packaging applications, Swany added. But he also pointed out that economies of scale are needed to lower the overall per-pound cost of bioplastics, thereby making them more attractive to retailers.
Bioplastics' lower carbon footprint and environmental sustainability will continue to make them more attractive to designers and manufacturers looking to improve in those areas, Swany said.