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Adrian Wilson

Editor's Viewpoint

2nd October 2019, Hürth

A big role for biocomposites in plastics reduction

Pictures from left to right: Flaxfood, Trifilon, Sulapac, Bioblo Spielwaren, Coperion, and Amorim. © The Nova Institute

Pictures from left to right: Flaxfood, Trifilon, Sulapac, Bioblo Spielwaren, Coperion, and Amorim. © The Nova Institute

Biocomposites can help companies to reduce plastics in a range of products, without compromising performance or processability, says the Nova Institute, based in Hürth, Germany.

Between 30 to 80% of plastics can be replaced by biogenic fillers such as wood flour or cork, or by natural fibres for reinforcement, on existing machines and without major modifications, whether by injection moulding, extrusion or additive production (3D printing)

Such products differ from normal plastic products in having a pleasant feel and an unusual appearance and their mechanical properties are also different, being stiffer and more tensile and bend-resistant due to the natural fibres.

The Nova Institute has published a list of all European producers and suppliers of biocomposite granulates which includes 30 producers from nine countries. The amount of granulates produced and sold in 2018 was almost 130,000 tons – a considerable increase compared to previous years – and double-digit growth is expected in the next few years.

Alternatives

“There has never been a greater demand for alternatives to classic plastic products and larger quantities of high quality granulates are available on the market for the first time,” says institute managing director Michael Carus. “The manufacturers – many already active for more than a decade – have further optimised their granulates and the larger available volumes are in turn allowing for lower prices.

Further biocomposite granulate producers and suppliers. © The Nova Institute

Further biocomposite granulate producers and suppliers. © The Nova Institute

As a result, biocomposites now exist for applications including consumer goods, toys, handles, shoes, façade and terrace elements, floors, automotive interiors, and even some aerospace applications.”

Manufacturers

The Portuguese cork manufacturer Amorim is the largest producer of such granulates with over 50,000 tons per year, with products such as shoes, handles for sports equipment and bathroom floors made from the cork materials.

Next comes Biologic from Belgium, with an annual capacity of 10,000 tons and Advanced Compounding and Tecnaro from Germany, with over 5,000 tons per year each. These three companies offer a wide range of polymers as well as a variety of wood and natural fibres as fillers and reinforcers. Even recycled denim jeans fibres or wine residues can now be processed into plastics.

Meanwhile, Finland’s UPM and Sora Enso, as well as Sappi in South Africa – all large companies from the wood-based products and pulp sectors – have also entered into the production of biocomposites.

Granulates

Among the biocomposite granulates, cork granulates account for the largest share, with approximately 60%. Wood and cellulose fibre granulates account for slightly more than 25% and natural fibre granulates for 15%.

Major producers and suppliers of wood and natural fibre filled and reinforced plastic granulates with their production quantities in Europe in 2018. © The Nova Institute

Major producers and suppliers of wood and natural fibre filled and reinforced plastic granulates with their production quantities in Europe in 2018. © The Nova Institute

“The use of biogenic fillers and reinforcing materials greatly reduces the proportion of fossil carbon in the granulate and increases the proportion of renewable carbon accordingly,” Carus says. “This makes it possible to leave more fossil resources in the ground and consequently to protect the climate.”

For even more renewable resources in a product, bio-based and/or recycled plastics can be used. This makes it possible to produce materials that completely dispense with fossil carbon and, based purely on renewable carbon. Most biocomposite granulate producers therefore also offer different bio-based plastics as well as PP and PE as recyclates.

In November this year, The Nova Institute will hold the 8th Biocomposites Conference, from 14-15 November in Cologne, Germany.

www.biocompositescc.com

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