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Issue 03/2020

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Highlights: Additives/Masterbatches Marine Littering

Application News Corona

Application News Corona and Bioplastics The dramatic spread of the Corona virus has disrupted lives, communities and businesses worldwide. One of the biggest challenges communities face is the critical shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical workers confronting the COVID-19 crisis. Thankfully many companies and institutions (also) in the bioplastics arena put the needs of society before profit and are working together in these challenging times. Of course there is a magnitude of activities out there, we just want to present a few examples. AT Crisis breads innovation In the battle against the the COVID-19 pandemic, a long-standing partnership between NatureWorks based in Minnetonka, USA, and the Nonwovens Institute (NWI) at North Carolina State University (NC State), Raleigh, USA, has resulted in a new spunbond nonwoven technology enabling the production of at least 10 million additional N95 surgical masks. NWI has converted the use of its research and training pilot production line to produce the face mask materials, and NatureWorks has donated the Ingeo resin needed to produce the spunbond material. “Donating the Ingeo needed for this application was an easy decision,” said Rich Altice, president and CEO of NatureWorks. “We wanted to support NWI, our long-time partner, as they create devices that will protect the healthcare workers who will take care of us, our families, our colleagues, and our communities in this crisis.” New Spunbond Nonwoven Structure Typical N95 respirators and surgical masks are a multi-layer structure of one or two spunbond nonwoven layers that provide mask shape and protect the inner filtration layer. Those layers are combined with an electrostatically charged layer of meltblown nonwoven material which serves as the filtration layer capturing microscopic unwanted particles such as viruses and bacteria. The charge is what boosts the meltblown’s filtering capabilities, but it also means that the masks cannot be reused since the charge can be lost during the cleaning process. The COVID-19 crisis led to the creation of a new generation of unique filters that have excellent filtering capability without needing to be charged, which makes them potentially reusable after cleaning with peroxide, or an alcohol solution. Due to the strength of the materials they can be cut and sewn by traditional techniques. The new nonwoven fabric is a bicomponent fiber made of Ingeo biopolymer (PLA) and polypropylene (PP), providing significant strength and bulk with equal effectiveness in filtration. Additionally, Ingeo improves the productivity of the spunbond process by at least 30%. Leveraging these benefits, NWI’s pilot line can produce enough material to make 2 million masks per week. NWI currently has an agreement to provide large amounts of spunbond nonwoven material to several key partners, which will make masks at their manufacturing facilities. They plan to provide the new masks to local communities in need. NC State has also ordered machines that will allow NWI to make surgical masks in its Centennial Campus facilities. AT | Research institute helps with PLA visors The Institute of Plastics Technology (IKT) at the University of Stuttgart, Germany, is producing protective visors with both the film and the filament made from PLA. The special feature of this project is that the film used for the visors and the filaments used for the 3D printing of the mounts are produced on the institute’s own extrusion lines and processed in their 3D printing laboratory. The specifically adjusted extrusion process enables the production of particularly clear films tailored to the visors. Up to now, the University Hospital Tübingen, the Tafel (food bank) Stuttgart and the emergency practice of the Marienhospital in Stuttgart have been supplied, among others, with the Covid-19 protective equipment. In the near future, other institutes of the University of Stuttgart will also be supplied with the highly transparent films as well as tailormade filaments in order to further increase the production capacity of the visors and thus enable comprehensive protection. AT 46 bioplastics MAGAZINE [02/20] Vol. 15

Application Automotive News Sharing knowledge to save lives beats making a profit The breathing masks made of Arboblend bioplastic from the biopolymer manufacturer Tecnaro, Ilsfeld, Germany, can be disinfected and are therefore reusable. According to the company, the filter can also be replaced depending on the location and requirements. Moreover, according to Tecnaro’s managing director Jürgen Pfitzer, both the mask and the replaceable filters can be disposed of in a CO 2 -neutral way. To speed up and simplify production the construction manual for injection molding processes in the plastics industry as well as for private 3D printers were posted as freeware on the Internet at It all started when the German machine manufacturer Reifenhäuser (Troisdorf) converted its research and development site into a pilot plant for the production of the desperately needed nonwovens. The company is the world market leader in the construction of extrusion lines for the production of Reicofil FFP filter fleeces, which are used to produce the FFP masks, have been are in high demand worldwide in the Corona crisis. However its products and production plants were developed for the Asian market with not a single production facility in Europe. The makeshift pilot plant had also a limited production volume and the German Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn stopped export of the material before there was even a manufacturer of the masks in Europe. This and the quantity limit of the test facility kicked off the initiative of Pfiltzer to use the fleece more economically. He pulled out all the stops and contacted many industry contacts that Tecnaro was able to cultivate over the years as a bioplastic producer. In the end Tecnaro, managed to produce a prototype together with the mechanical engineering company CastSolut, based in Ellwangen, Germany. The final product is a pliable reusable mask that requires only about one-fifth of the usual non-woven cloth. This is because the small rectangular filter cloth is clamped in a holder at the front between two mask parts and can be replaced just as easily. A lot of technical tweaking ensures that the inhalation and exhalation resistance is not too high given the size of the replaceable filter cloth. The dimensional stability during disinfection, the tightness at the edges of the parts and more were also clarified with the help of Tecnaro’s contacts at the Jülich Research Centre. This would now make it possible to produce five million high-quality FFP standard masks in one go, where the cloth used in the pilot plant would have been sufficient for only about one million. The mask can be made of silicone. Pfitzer: “This material is not our favorite, but it is already tested and approved. In the current situation, human lives are at stake - neither sustainability nor profit matter now. Since the injection mold cannot be produced before three weeks have elapsed, the freeware should be put online immediately to help immediately and as quickly as possible.” If Tecnaro has their way, the masks and the fleece will both be made of Arboblend, one of their many injection-mouldable compounds based on PHA, PLA and other ingredients. AT Romy Pfitzer and Dennis Keller show reusable masks made of Arboblend and silicone. (Photo: Tecnaro) Making the crisis more bearable Biopromotions, a company based in Amstelhoek, the Netherlands, is reacting to the current circumstances with an innovative and supportive approach not only for the healthcare segment but also for anyone who uses a mask in their daily routine. The innovation lies in the adding of a mask strap that supports the rubber band of the mask, removing excess pressure from the ears, making the mask more comfortable to wear. The environmental impact of the products was also of high importance for Biopromotions, which led to a collaboration with Braskem from Brazil. Braskem’s sugarcane based I’m green TM polyethylene was the most sustainable solution compared to other conventional alternatives. “We have seen how our nurses in the Netherlands, but also worldwide, are fighting hard to save the lives of thousands of people every day. Given the increased use of masks and other vital protective equipment at this time, our aim was to come up with a design that could help avoid irritation for medical professionals – hence the mask strap which reduces the day-long strain around a nurse’s ears. The material used to make the mask strap should reflect our company’s ideals of quality and sustainability, which is why we chose to use this particular soft bio-based material,” says Robert de Waal, Managing Director at Biopromotions. AT | bioplastics MAGAZINE [02/20] Vol. 15 47

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