Plastics play a critical role in so many parts of our lives. Their combination of durability, light weight and adaptability have made them a cornerstone of modern manufacturing and technology. However, there can be a downside to many of the plastics used today – petroleum-based plastics contribute to an increasingly-regulated carbon footprint. Reducing carbon emissions has become important to many consumers worldwide and therefore, it is important for manufacturers to remain aware of developments in bioplastics.
Bioplastics are derived from plant and other biodegradable materials including vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, and microbiota. While they’ve existed for a long time, more recent innovations have created bioplastic materials that are capable of competing with traditional polymers both in terms of functionality and price.
One of the leaders in this change is popular Denmark-based toymaker Lego. Lego has very specific requirements for its products – the chief of which is durability, which must be comparable to an existing material like ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene). Lego wants people to be able to pass their bricks down for several generations. For bricks with moving parts, Lego requires low friction and for applications like vehicle tires, they need a softer material. Finally, all Lego bricks need to be accurately molded to just a few microns – ensuring compatibility, and they need to be as shiny and colorful as the older bricks too. Lego created a dedicated Sustainable Materials Center to develop the bioplastics that will make their products of the future. To learn more about Lego’s endeavors, you can read this 7/2017 article from Quartz.
Another Denmark-based consortium is bringing bioplastics to a new market – injection-molded food packaging. This is a market where the demand for eco-friendly packaging is strong but cost remains a significant obstacle to switching. The critical issues are the flow characteristics of most available bioplastics – which don’t lend themselves well to complexly shaped injection-molding. Techniques being examined to address these issues involve new production procedures that are currently being tested.
We at Laszeray are always interested in new technological developments and given our love of solving tough problems, we will be watching closely to see what the future holds for bioplastics. Until then… if you need material expertise, Laszeray’s experts are ready with the answers to suit your needs.