ExxonMobil Chemical officials believe their firm has taken polypropylene to a new level with a foamable grade of its Achieve-brand PP resin.
"Polypropylene and the foaming industry are a good match, but it but had been limited by low melt strength," Olivier Lorge said in a recent phone interview with Plastics News. "Now we can combine the best properties of polypropylene to make foam that's affordable and has high melt strength."
Lorge is global marketing manager of the PP, Vistamaxx and adhesion units of Houston-based ExxonMobil Chemical. The new Achieve PP grade is commercially available worldwide and can be used in food and beverage packaging, industrial packaging, building products and automotive parts.
The new materials also can improve product stiffness by up to 30 percent vs. other PP foam grades, officials said, creating cost reduction opportunities.
"Foam brings light weight and insulation, which is why it's been such a good product through the years," Lorge said. "It's led to uses in automotive, construction and sports equipment, where it has a lot of advantages.
"Now we want to use polypropylene in foam, where its low cost and good properties make it one of the most versatile polymers on earth," he added.
The new material will allow PP to compete with existing foam resins such as polystyrene, polyurethane and PVC. The ability to use existing equipment also is an advantage, officials said.
Foamable PP "has been around for 20 years, but it's never been affordable at scale," said Abby Petrerson, global PP/Vistamaxx/adhesion brand adviser. "Now our proprietary technology allows customers to make PP foam at scale using their current machinery.
"The possibilities are endless," she added. "We've cracked the code."
Lorge said that ExxonMobil has worked with machinery makers to ensure that existing machinery can be used with minor adjustments. "It's not completely a drop-in, but it's affordable," he added, citing foam packaging such as food service clamshells, coffee cups and meat trays as potential major applications.
The new PP material also is recyclable in communities with appropriate collection and recycling facilities, officials said.
In food and beverage packaging, the new grade offers insulation properties and durable grease and moisture resistance even in high temperature applications like microwave ovens and dishwashers. The stiff and durable packaging can be re-used and is well-suited to replacing corrugated sheet to protect valuable products.
In building products such as insulation and concrete joints, the new PP provides durability and flexibility for ease of installation. In auto parts such as headliners, ducts and floor liners, the new grade delivers stiffness that allows vehicle manufacturers to maintain critical performance properties while reducing weight and increasing fuel efficiency.
The foam structure can also provide benefits such as heat insulation and sound dissipation for a more comfortable ride, officials said.