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Sumitomo (SHI) Demag UK chief proffers bioplastics processing advice

Sumitomo (SHI) Demag is accelerating its adoption of bioplastics, bringing in polyethylene furanoate (PEF) to its moulding material portfolio, a bio-polymer with superior barrier and thermal properties, making it comparable to PET and suitable for the packaging of drinks, food and non-food products.

Expected to enter the market in 2020, this new polymer is said to feature superior barrier and thermal properties, making it comparable to PET and therefore suitable for the packaging of drinks, food and non-food products.

Injection moulders are increasingly looking to bioplastics to diversify their products. Managing Director of Sumitomo (SHI) Demag, Nigel Flowers, highlights processing equipment considerations: “In theory, you can run bioplastics through an injection moulding machine just as you would any other polymer. The main issue lies in how that plastic performs as an end product, which will dictate what applications it can be considered for.”

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Nigel Flowers, Sumitomo (SHI) Demag UK

Drop-in plastics, such as bio-based polyethylene, bio-based PET, or bio-based polyamides typically have the same technical and functional properties as their conventional counterparts. Used in high-demand and durable applications such as electronics, construction, automobiles, and consumer goods, they can, in the main part, be processed and recycled in the exact same way. However, other innovative bioplastics such as PLA or starch-based plastics desired for food packaging and in agricultural applications, have different properties, such as improved barrier or compostability.

When buying bioplastics, processors should ask suppliers how the material will perform in end use; how close a material is to its replacement; whether quality of the component will be compromised or altered significantly, and how the material will process.

Equipped with this information, a moulder can make a more informed decision about the feasibility of switching to bioplastics. At this phase you may progress to a process trial to see how the material performs in your existing injection moulding equipment. Some bioplastics have yet to fully meet the performance requirements needed to lend themselves to more durable goods - heat resistance, enhanced moisture barriers, greater rigidity and flexibility and durability are continuously improving.

Car makers are making great strides. Biobased or partially biobased commodity plastics such as PE or PET are already being used for applications like car dashboards. Currently, packaging is the leading segment, accounting for almost 60 percent (1.2 million tonnes) of the total bioplastics market in 2017.

Bioplastics is also good for jobs, with a recent EuropaBio study suggesting a more than tenfold increase in European employment opportunities by 2030, which would boost the development of rural areas.

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