Distributors of Bio-Tec Environmental LLC's organic EcoPure are beginning to market an advanced version of the resin additive.
We begin deliveries in October, said Bio-Tec co-founder and CEO John Lake. Initially the Albuquerque-based company will be selling the new EcoPure in masterbatches from an unidentified Texas toll compounder, he said.
The latest generation of EcoPure is more suitable for clear-plastic applications than previous versions, according to Lake, who established Bio-Tec Environmental with Samuel Adams in October 2003.
Bio-Tec, which now employs 12, projects 2010 volume growth of 300 percent vs. last year, Lake said. He declined to disclose sales figures but said about 45 percent of EcoPure's utilization is in North America.
Across the product line, masterbatches or liquid formulations of the additive are designed for use primarily with commodity thermoplastics polystyrene, polypropylene, polyethylene, PET and PVC.
Comparatively, EcoPure has few processing issues, James Rooney said during Bio-Tec's Environmental Plastics Solutions conference, held Sept. 20-21 in Dana Point.
Manufacturers have been burned for about 15 years and, in many cases, converters have experienced steep learning curves to extrude new materials into film products, said Rooney, president of EcoLogic LLC of Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., an EcoPure distributor and strategic partner for the brand.
EcoPure competes in aspects of the sustainable-products market, principally with oxo-biodegradable plastic additives from EPI Environmental Products Inc. of Vancouver, British Columbia; Ingeo-brand polylactic acid from NatureWorks LLC of Minnetonka, Minn.; and Mirel-brand polyhydroxyalkanoate from the Telles LLC joint venture of Metabolix Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., and Archer Daniels Midland Co. of Decatur, Ill.
A 2010 survey by London-based Informa plc's Datamonitor Group projects that global bioplastics production capacity will grow more than 15 percent a year through 2014, Rooney said.
He commented on the economics of driving value with innovation, with a perfect example of that being cheese packaging with a zipper, he said. That innovation comes at a higher cost of about 5-7 percent, which is similar to the EcoPure cost differential, he said.
However, he warned attendees about possible pitfalls, such as the noise factor in the now-discredited PLA-content Sun Chips bag, which entered the market in January and was withdrawn in early October. PepsiCo Inc.'s Frito-Lay North America division pulled the packaging for five of the six Sun Chips flavors and returned those multigrain products to traditional non-compostable bags. Going forward, Frito-Lay still plans other compostable packaging for bags for original-flavor Sun Chips.
Bio-Tec consultant Charles Lancelot pointed out that EcoPure does not modify the conventional base resin to which it is added.
The latter retains all its original properties and shelf life, said Lancelot, who is a general partner in Milton, Ga., for CE Tech Consulting Inc.
When a client came to CE Tech seeking a clear, microwaveable, reusable biodegradable material, the company began running tests on several materials, including EcoPure. The first three properties are readily achievable, Lancelot said. The challenge is adding biodegradability to the mix.
The CE Tech team, which includes Lancelot and partner Kenneth Morris in Cornelius, N.C., evaluated results of the tests, conducted in 2009 through laboratories such as Eden Research Laboratory in Albuquerque and the Georgia Tech Research Institute materials analysis center in Atlanta.
We also looked at our existing clients for possible interest in this technology and at same time started working closer with Bio-Tec, which now is also a CE Tech client, Lancelot said.
The new EcoPure, which can be used in clear-plastic applications, presents new carrier resin opportunities he said, and can prevent bridging in the hopper from excessive heat buildup. An optical brightener additive allows an ultraviolet light to activate embedded phosphorescence and authenticate EcoPure's presence in a finished product.
EcoPure is a blend of organic chemicals melt-compounded into a masterbatch carrier resin and pelletized. Advocates see end-market benefits in adding it at a rate of 0.75 to 1 percent to a polymer stream.
The additive is not a new, biochemically synthesized polymer like PLA or the PHA series, Lancelot said. EcoPure initiates and promotes solely a biodegradation process only in the presence of microorganisms, he said.
In a landfill or other biomass-containing environment, an EcoPure-infused blend makes the hydrophobic base resin more hydrophilic, promotes biofilm formation, and attracts and initiates growth of appropriately adapted microorganisms, he said.
One conference speaker noted, though, that it is difficult, if not impossible, to forecast a material's total biodegradation. There is no way to say a biodegradable material will be completely gone in 10 years or 15 years, said William Ullman, president and technical director of full-scale test site Northeast Laboratories Inc. in Berlin, Conn.
A material proponent cannot say 'absolutely' with any certainty, Ullman said.
Lancelot pointed out, however, that EcoPure biodegradation testing methodologies have been refined since CE Tech testing began in mid-2009. Tests of a variety of EcoPure-enhanced commodity thermoplastics have shown for time periods ranging from 40 days to more than 100 days up to 40 percent conversion of the total carbon to methane and carbon dioxide and 40 percent reduction in molecular weight as measured by gel permeation chromatography.
The first generation of EcoPure entered the commercial market in late 2008, using ethylene vinyl acetate as the carrier. The second generation, with a proprietary carrier material, became available in mid-2009.
While Bio-Tec is self-funded so far, the firm is applying for grants, in particular to expand testing, Lake said.
Lake claims Bio-Tec competitors are seeking to block EcoPure by trying to insert wording into California legislation and ASTM International test procedures that would undermine the protection of its intellectual property, though he did not provide specific examples. They hope for us to fail, Lake said.
One EcoPure goal is to reverse environmental pollution, including the global pollution of plastics in the North Pacific gyre and South Atlantic gyre, Lake said.