Rilsan-brand nylon 11 resin was green before green was red-hot.
The resin produced by Arkema Group at plants in Birdsboro, Pa.; Normandy, France; and Changdu, China has been based on organic castor oil since its development in the late 1940s. That's now an advantage, with consumers more focused on sustainable products not reliant on oil.
``Green is a selling point in certain markets,'' Rilsan sales manager Larry Stanislow said during a recent interview at Arkema Group's North American headquarters in Philadelphia.
Rilsan polyamide 11 currently is used in oil and gas exploration equipment, including floating platforms and piping.
The material ``doesn't age poorly'' and can last up to 20 years, Stanislow added.
Newer potential uses for Rilsan PA 11 include sports equipment, disposable pens, plumbing and lighting fixtures, office products and medical catheters.
The material's green origins were born of necessity rather than idealism. In post-World War II France, nylon was needed for tire thread, but oil was in short supply. Castor oil, derived from castor beans, was readily available, so local industrialists built the Rilsan plant, aided in part by funds supplied by the Marshall Plan, an American investment effort to rebuild postwar Europe.
Rilsan also is produced as an oil-based nylon 12. That material is used in a number of automotive applications, including under-the-hood fuel lines and under-chassis brake lines, where Stanislow said the material is valued for its permeation resistance and stability.
Increased truck production in China and India also is providing an opportunity for Rilsan PA 12, Stanislow said, since the material is used in truck tubing.
Arkema is ``modernizing and maximizing'' the Birdsboro plant by upgrading pumps and reactors and other equipment. Automated controls are being updated at the site, Stanislow said. The project will result in a 5 percent capacity increase and should be completed by the end of 2009.
The Birdsboro site gained production last year when Arkema closed a Rilsan facility in Bonn, Germany. Rilsan sales growth in 2008 is expected to be above 20 percent in Asia and about 15 percent in North America.
European sales growth should be only around 3 percent, since that market's more mature and faces more competition, Stanislow said.
In Birdsboro and Normandy, Arkema also produces Pebax, a nylon-based thermoplastic elastomer that's often compounded with copolyester or thermoplastic polyurethane. Pebax applications range from sports and ski equipment to footwear.
A renewable grade of Pebax based on Rilsan PA 11 has been developed. Pebax also can be used with Sorona-brand bioresin produced by DuPont Co. of Wilmington, Del.