NEC Platforms, a wholly-owned subsidiary of NEC Corporation has started mass production of its NeCycle cellulose-based bioplastic materials. The company has worked on the development of the material for almost a decade.
NEC started exploring the potential of bioplastics in 2000, although at that time, the focus was on corn-based PLA. In 2007, the company successfully created a high-performance grade that, due to the addition of kenaf and safe flame-resistant components found in soil, also exhibited fire-retardant properties. This highly functional, durable material proved suitable for use in components found in cell phones, computers, and fuel dispensers.
Since 2010, NEC has progressively introduced this material across six product groups, including NEC's business desktop computers and commercial payment terminals.
NEC Platforms then turned to studying the possibilities of using non-edible feedstocks, including cellulose. The research into cellulosic materials, derived from rice, wood, straw and more, led to the development of NeCycle, described by the company, as a ‘highly functional bioplastic that contains approximately 50% non-edible plant ingredients and biodegrades in natural environments in approximately four years’.
After further optimising the durability properties of the new material, NEC Platforms went on first to establish a manufacturing and quality assurance system, and then to successfully launch mass production of the material, which has been developed for injection moulding.
The company emphasises that not only is NeCycle a functional bioplastic, it is also highly decorative, featuring a deep blackness resembling that of traditional Japanese lacquerware, with no coating required.
The company will now set out guidelines on optimal component shapes, moulding conditions, and mould designs for NeCycle. Among the applications targeted with the new materials are interior products, automotive products, and office automation equipment that emphasise environmental and decorative properties.
NEC Platforms is currently formulating a business strategy that will see sales of the material to reach an annual 5 billion JPY (approximately €42 million) in FY2025.