The growing acceptance of sustainability is boosting programs at compounding leader PolyOne Corp., as well as at several smaller firms.
In August, PolyOne licensed a series of bio-based plasticizer technology patents from Battelle Memorial Institute, a nonprofit research and development firm in Columbus, Ohio.
Avon Lake, Ohio-based PolyOne followed up that deal Sept. 22 by announcing a similar deal with agricultural leader Archer Daniels Midland Co. of Decatur, Ill.
The technologies use epoxidized soybean oil as a plasticizer to make PVC resins more flexible, said Rick Heggs, senior marketing manager for Battelle's bio-based products. PolyOne PVC business director Rob Rosenau said the Battelle technology will be used in conjunction with similar technology from ADM that is based on corn and oil seeds.
Unlike previous bioplasticizer efforts, the Battelle materials can be used as a primary plasticizer, not just a secondary material, Heggs said in a recent phone interview. The technologies were patented in 2002 and 2003 after being developed at Battelle's labs in Columbus. The PolyOne effort will be the first commercial use of the products.
Bioplasticizers are based on renewable resources and can replace petroleum-based products that may be in limited supply, Heggs said. In flexible PVC, the materials also can replace phthalates, which have come under pressure from environmentalists because of alleged health risks.
Overall, Battelle's bioplasticizer products can reduce the amount of plasticizer used by 10-20 percent, when compared with standard products, according to Heggs.
No timetable has been set for the launch of the bioplasticizer products. Rosenau said that PolyOne will use the materials in its own PVC-based compounds, as well as sell them to outside customers. Commercial production likely will take place at PolyOne's Avon Lake facility.
``Medical and child-contact areas are probably the first markets we'd look at, because of economics and timing and the pressure on phthalates,'' Rosenau said. He added that performance, cost and regulatory approval also would be important for the new products.
By the end of the year, Danimer Scientific LLC of Bainbridge, Ga., will announce the location of its first polyhydroxyalkanoates biopolymer site. Company President Blake Lindsey said the plant most likely will be in Georgia, but could possibly be in nearby Alabama. The material will be made by Danimer's Meredian Inc. unit, using technology that Danimer bought from Procter & Gamble Co. in late 2007.
Lindsey said there's enough demand for PHA biopolymers to create three plants each with 200 million pounds of annual capacity by 2013.
``P&G had done extensive development work, but we'll be doing the scale-up on our own,'' he said. ``Right now we're doing [material] validation work with outside companies.''
Danimer already has two existing bioplastic product lines: compounds based on polylactic acid supplied by NatureWorks LLC and Seluma-brand plant-based polyesters. Danimer's PLA compounds are toll-compounded by an outside firm based on Danimer's formulations.
The Seluma products are made in Bainbridge, where Danimer has added 20 new jobs in the last year. In 2009, Danimer will increase Seluma capacity to 15 million pounds about four times its current total.
``Major corporations have recognized that they have to be more sustainable in everything they do,'' Lindsey said. ``That translates into products you see at major retailers like Wal-Mart.''
Danimer's biopolymers can be used in films, extrusion coatings, bottles and other rigid packaging. PHA, made with technology bought from P&G, is based on oils from soybeans, cottonseed or corn.
In La Mirada, Calif., Samsung Cheil Industries Inc. is making plans to produce a PLA/polycarbonate alloy at a plant in Indiana sometime during 2009. The alloy already is being used in three cell phones made by Samsung Group, the Seoul, South Korea-based parent firm of Samsung Cheil.
Currently, Samsung Cheil buys PLA made by NatureWorks in the U.S., then ships the material to South Korea where it's compounded before being molded into the phones.
The PLA/PC alloy can reduce carbon-dioxide-emission impact by as much as 40 percent vs. standard PC, Samsung Cheil officials said. In 2009, Samsung Cheil will begin making the material at an undisclosed site in Indiana and sell the product to external customers, said Jerry Tennant, general manager and sales director.
To date, the materials have drawn more interest in Asia than in North America, according to Tennant.
``A lot of potential customers in North America don't know about the capabilities of these materials yet,'' he said. ``We can do some of that development work for them.''
Samsung Cheil also imports post-consumer recycled grades of ABS, PET and polyetheretherketone from South Korea for sale in North America. The firm is part of Samsung Group, the industrial conglomerate that ranks as South Korea's largest business.
Bioplastics have been good business for resin distributor Jamplast Inc. in Ellisville, Mo. Jamplast's sales of bioplastics products made by Nature Works, Cereplast Inc. and JER Envirotech International Corp. ``have more than doubled [since 2007] and continue to accelerate,'' Jamplast President John Moisson said.
``We're getting the second wave of customers, where they've seen these [bioplastics] products work and get used in the market,'' Moisson added.
Recently, Jamplast has made sales to a large foreign automaker and to a major cosmetics firm. Moisson said customers now are looking at bioplastics in durable goods, rather than only in disposable products. Bioplastics ``have really closed the gap from a value proposition,'' he said.
The materials are on track to account for about 16 percent or 6 million pounds of the 38 million pounds of resin that Jamplast will distribute in 2008. Moisson previously said he wants bioplastics to account for half of his firm's sales by 2013.
``The deal right now, and for the past year, is for resin companies to go to each customer and say `Oil prices are up, so everything's up,' '' he added. ``Bioplastics are more stable, as long as they fit from a usage standpoint.''
Jamplast has been the exclusive North American distributor since 2006 for plant-based PLA resin made by NatureWorks of Minnetonka, Minn. In March, Jamplast added Vancouver, British Columbia-based JER Envirotech's biocomposite line, which blends polyethylene, polypropylene or polystyrene with wood flour.