Hello!

Phew, Chicago has survived NATO. For residents of Chicago, the assembly of world leaders at McCormick Place over the weekend was inconvenient but cool. The Loop essentially shut down for four days, as all were warned of the closures and delays. Some lucky ducks even had a 4-day weekend because offices closed in anticipation of the protestors. Metra passengers were not allowed to bring food or drink on the train, and all bags were screened prior to boarding. As a resident of downtown Chicago, I was totally impressed by the extensive yet organized presence of cops; they circled every compromised building and lined the protest route. While one violent squirmish did break out between police and demonstrators at Michigan and Cermak, it was provoked by only a handful of anarchist protesters (The Blak Bloc”) and was contained with minimum force soon thereafter. Check out this pic I took Friday afternoon; notice the homeland security SUVs parked as far as the eye can see?

Today we are going to talk about developments with my LCA inquiry introduced in May 11th’s post. AND, to follow, for your viewing pleasure, pictures of home compostable bioresins a year after being home composted. Oh the anticipation!

To recap, what I mean when I say “my LCA inquiry,” is I am investigating the value of conducting an LCA of Dordan’s conversion process in order to: (1) establish a baseline off which environmental progress can be gauged, (2) compare with industry average and/or other conversion processes, (3) submit to available LCIA databases in order to provide more current data on the environmental profile of thermoforming, and (4) understand the methodology and application of LCA.

This investigation was inspired by the SPC suggestion of collective reporting among its member companies in order to demonstrate to outside stakeholders the value of SPC membership; and, research into LCA as per Dr. Karli Verghese’s presentation at Sustainability in Packaging (click here to download the Report).

After reaching out to the SPC re: aiding in the development of tools to perform an environmental assessment of Dordan’s conversion process, it was suggested I propose the idea to the membership; if there was membership interest, I could start a member-led working group dedicated to creating methodologies for LCA application to manufacturing processes.

Since I last posted, I had the opportunity to speak with LCA practitioners in the SPC membership about my Dordan LCA inquiry. Here are a couple conversation takeaways:

It is in a company’s interest to perform an LCA of its processes if said processes are more efficient/innovative than the industry standard; the industry standard for thermoforming can be teased from the available LCIA databases, like EcoInvent and the U.S. Life Cycle Inventory Database.

A good way to determine if your processes are more efficient than the industry average, and therefore an LCA is warranted, is to perform an inventory analysis: First, determine what your process’s main resource consumptions are i.e. water and electricity. Then, collect all information pertaining to the consumption of these resources via energy and/or water bills. Consult the industry average’s rates for these environmental indicators and see how your processes compare in the context of electricity and water consumption per some functional unit i.e. 10,000 packages produced.

If you determine that a full LCA is warranted, there are MANY ways to go about it. However, it is crucial that the results/findings of which are 3rd party-reviewed in order to validate the study. This was explained to me as being quite the process, and comes with a price tag.

Based on these insights, I am going to conduct an inventory analysis of Dordan’s energy consumption per a-yet-to-be established functional unit in order to compare with the industry average for thermoforming. Stay tuned!

My next post will discuss feedback from the last portion of the Walmart Packaging SVN meeting.

As an aside, in previous posts I alluded to an S+S Sorting pilot that looks to compare the reprocessing of thermoform vs. bottle PET flake. Remember? Anyway, my colleague at S+S has yet to get back to me with the results of this pilot. Stay tuned!

AND, do you remember way back when, at the start of Dordan’s Bio Resin Show N Tell research (click here to download Report), when we tossed some of the home compostable certified bioresins (PHA, Cellulous Acetate) into Dordan’s home compost to see if the materials biodegraded? Well, this spring I analyzed the compost pile to determine the rate of biodegradation and am sad to report that little had changed in regards to the composition of the material: while lightened in color and somewhat more brittle, both the PHA and Cellulous Acetate, certified for home-composting, remain completely intact; you can even see the Dordan logo embossed on the cavity. Please note, however, that Dordan’s compost pile has had its fair share of growing pains and the “bioplastics composting trial” may not reflect a 100% active home compost.

Pictured: PHA, formed into tray with Dordan embossed logo on sample press, home composted Spring 2011.

Pictured: Melted PHA plastic from sample press forming; demonstrates lack of biodegradation.

Pictured: Close-up of Dordan logo embossed in PHA tray cavity

Pictured: Compilation of PHA and Cellulous Acetate scrap, certified for home-composting, a year after being composted.

Pictured: Cellulous Acetate scrap, certified for home composting, a year after being home composted.

WOW! As per my last post I was hoping my friend from Algix would get back to me with a more technical discussion of the company’s technology synthesizing bio plastics from algae and BOY HOWDY did I! Check out the awesome responses below.

QUESTION:

Please describe the relationship between textile manufacturers/dairy producers and algae. In other words, how does algae become a waste product of these industries’ process and how is it ideal for manipulation into bio-based plastics?

ANSWER:

Many types of algae and aquatic plants have been used for cleaning waters rich in inorganic nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus compounds. The high nutrient content accelerates the growth rates and increases the protein content of a variety of “nuisance” algae and aquatic plants or “aquatic macrophytes”. The enormous “algal blooms” are seen as not only a nuisance but an environmental hazard due to the oxygen demand the algal cells require during night time respiration which can suffocate fish and other animals if the excess nutrients run off or leach into nearby water bodies. Many industries produce large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus-rich waste-water, such as the agricultural livestock farms, i.e. dairies and swineries, fisheries, etc; as well as industrial sources such as processing plants for textiles, municipalities, distilleries, biorefineries, etc.

ALGIX, LLC is located in Georgia, hence we are focusing our efforts on industries in the southeast where we have longer growing seasons, a warmer climate and an abundance of water compared to north or southwest. The “Carpet Capital of the World” is located in Dalton, Georgia, which has over 150 carpet plants which produce millions of gallons of nutrient rich waste water. Research conducted at the University of Georgia, has demonstrated high growth rates from various strains of algae and isolated top performing microalgae strains for further development. ALGIX is in discussions with companies there to scale up biomass production and use cultivated algae as a bio-additive in their polymer containing flooring products. Likewise, we are also talking to a variety of compounders that can co-process and blend the aquatic biomass with other base resins, such as PE, PP EVA, PLA, PHA, etc. As product development progresses, various end use applications for algae-blended thermoplastics and bioplastics will arise, which will increase the demand for the raw aquatic feedstocks. The advantage is that industries can effectively capture their lowest-value waste product, i.e. nitrates and phosphates, through bioremediation using algae and aquatic macrophytes. Photosynthesis captures solar energy and converts the waste water nutrients into biomass which can then be used as a raw material for composite formulations to make resins and bioplastics.

As the demand for algal biomass increases, there will be an incentive for other industrial plants to build out algae based water treatment systems and sell the biomass. Livestock operations such as Dairies, Fisheries, etc located in the southeast and southwest can use algae to treat their manure effluents and provide additional biomass to the market. We are in discussions with large dairies companies for building out algal ponds for water treatment and biomass recovery. Over time the aquatic biomass will become a commodity product traded like other traditional agricultural crops. Currently, large amounts of corn are being diverted from food production and enter biofuel or bioplastic production. Thereby, introducing a new, low-Eco footprint biofeedstock will help alleviate the demand on food based crops for plastics and liquid fuel conversion.

QUESTION:

How is post-industrial algae synthesized into bio-based plastics? In other words, how is the protein in algae bound to the plastic components to allow for application to injection molding? What additives are required to allow for the synthesis OR used to increase the properties of the material? I remember discussions of protein-based materials (cellulous) vs. carbon-based (bio-PET) and how the former “connects” to the plastic molecule similar to how the calcium carbonate connects to the PP polymer, for example.

ANSWER:

Algae produced from wastewater treatment has been grown under nitrogen rich conditions, providing an abundance of nitrogen to make protein. During exponential growth phases in algae and aquatic plants, the composition of the biomass is dominated by protein, in the range of 30-60% depending on species. The higher protein content algae or post processed meals may have 50% or more protein which is similar to soy protein meal. Although some companies have announced efforts to refine the algal oils or ferment into ethanol, these approaches require additional refining for synthesizing into “bio-based” monomers and polymers identical to their petroleum counterpart, such as Bio-PET, or bio-polyethylene, etc.

The protein in the biomass is what our process uses as the “polymeric” material in the blends. Proteins, by definition, are polymer chains of amino acids, which offer a variety of hydrophobic and hydrophillic interactions based upon the amino acid profile. Through thermomechanical processing, such as twin screw extrusion, the heat and shear forces exerted on the native protein complexes force them to denature and unfold providing a network of elongated polymer-like threads when blended with a base resin. The proteins have hydroxl groups available that can hydrogen bond and covalently bond in the presence of polar side groups on polymer chains as well as maleated chemical interactions. By adding conventional coupling agents, tensile strength and moisture absorption can be significantly improved.

The remaining portion of the non-protein biomass is usually composed of carbohydrates such as cellulose, hemicellulose, polysaccharides, but have little to no lignin. The crude fiber portion of the biomass has been shown to act like a reinforcing agent, increasing stiffness and tensile strength, but reduces elongation. The Ash fractions can range from 10-30% depending on cultivation method, however we believe the ash or minerals, will behave like a mineral filler, similar to calcium carbonate as it will be homogeneously blended throughout the matrix along with the biomass. Algae grown for bioremediation generally have a low lipid content, around 10% or less, and in cases where algae is being grown for biofuels, with high oil contents, the oil will be extracted leaving a protein-rich post extracted meal which will be well suited for compounding. Other value added compounds, such as high value pigments and antioxidants may also be extracted which will help in being able to modify the plastic color from dark green or brown to a lighter color which is easier to mask with color additives. Biomass particle size is also an important variable and needs to be optimized depending on conversion technology and application.

We have been successful compounding algae blends with some base resins up to 70% bio, however the majority of our formulations used in injection molding are set at a 50/50 blend which provides stronger performance characteristics. However, pure 100% algae dogbones have been made under compression molding, but do not have the performance properties compared to the injection molded blends.

QUESTION:

What is the preferred end-of-life treatment of this unique bio-based plastic? Is it similar to the approach taken by PLA supplier NatureWorks, which looks to generate the quantity necessary to sustain the creation of a new closed-loop recycling process in which PLA would be recycled in its own post-consumer stream?

ANSWER:

In the case that Algae is compounded with biodegradable base resins such as PLA, PHA, PHB, TPS, PBAT, and others, the final bioplastic will have the same or higher degree of biodegradability. Since we are dealing with biomass, the algae component is consumable by microbes, and the slight hydrophillic nature of the resin allows water to penetrate and accelerate the biodegradation process under the proper composting conditions. ALGIX still is testing the biodegradability rate and cannot not comment on degradation curves yet, as most of our research has been on formulation, co-processing, and performance related milestones.

When biomass from any source is compounded with a base resin, the resulting formulation becomes distinct from the recyclable pure resin. This is even the case with different polymer composites that may have two or more resin constituents. Although the biomass will be able to sustain some level of recycling, due to the more fragile nature of the resins bio building blocks, the performance will likely decrease, as with most other conventional recycled resins. We do not necessarily see a unique algal-blended stream of plastics, just due to the numerous variables in the formulations. A recent study by the American Chemical Council found that the US has a dismally low recycling rate below 10% but the state of New Hampshire has an exceptionally high recovery rate of over 40%. Instead of recycling these materials, which requires sophisticated sorting equipment or lots of manual labor, an easier approach was to convert the non-recyclable plastic waste steam into energy using boilers for steam and electricity production. I believe they still recycled some of the more easily sorted materials, like plastic water/soda bottles, just used any non-spec plastic for waste-2-energy…This not only reduced the cost associated with handling and processing the numerous recycling streams, it provided a substantial amount of alternative energy. If algae blended with synthetic non-biodegradable polymers increases in usage, the biomass fraction essentially acts as a bioenergy source at the end of its lifecycle. The conclusion that the ACC drew was that there is a dramatic shift in the amount of states shifting their focusing from complex sorting/recycling to a more direct and streamlined waste-to-energy approach. As Waste-2-energy increases, the concern about having closed loop recycling, although a wonderful concept, will be alleviated because the “other” non-recyclable plastics now can be converted to energy instead of being landfilled. The algae fraction of the plastics represents a carbon neutral component of the resin and energy feedstock.

ALGIX is initially focusing on product streams of plastic that have a low or absent recycling rate due to various factors; these include paint cans, pesticides, fertilizers, mulch films, and carpet products. There exists active programs for recycling carpets by shaving the fibers and grinding the backings for use in new carpets (at some minor percentage) as well as pure post-consumer-grade base resins, usually PP based. New product lines can be generated using post consumer grade resins with post-industrial grade algae biomass to provide a bioresin with a very low eco-footprint. We have a research proposal pending on conducting an LCA based on the algae biorefinery approach for bioplastics to further quantify these environmental and economic benefits.

That should be enough for yall to chew on for a bit…

Let’s all give a big digital THANK YOU to Algix for being so informative and transparent with their exciting new technology!

Heyo!

Long time no chat! As per a previous post’s statement, I spoke with a representative from Algix a couple weeks back in regards to their algae-based plastic that has been successfully injection molded into different parts. Unfortunately I have misplaced my notes from the call, which detailed the technicalities involved in synthesizing a resin from an algae-based feedstock, including the unique chemistry of this process. But fear not! Check out the inquiries below I just emailed to my friend at Algix who defiantly is the go-to guy for all things algae-based-technology related.  

  • Please describe the relationship between textile manufacturers/dairy producers and algae. In other words, how does algae become a waste product of these industries’ processes and how is it ideal for manipulation into bio-based plastics?
  • How is post-industrial algae synthesized into bio-based plastics? In other words, how is the protein in algae bound to the plastic components to allow for application to injection molding? What additives are required to allow for the synthesis OR used to increase the properties of the material? I remember discussions of protein-based materials (cellulous) vs. carbon-based (bio-PET) and how the former “connects” to the plastic molecule similar to how the calcium carbonate connects to the PP polymer, for example.  Please expand on this analogy.
  • What is the preferred end-of-life treatment of this unique bio-based plastic? Is it similar to the approach taken by PLA supplier NatureWorks, which looks to generate the quantity necessary to sustain the creation of a closed-loop recycling process in which PLA would be recycled in its own post-consumer stream?

Hopefully, more details to come!

NEXT, Dordan’s collaboration with material science company Ecovative in regards to the design of their thermoformed “grow trays” was recently covered in several industry articles: First published on GreenerPackage.com and then Packaging World the story subsequently made its way into HealthCare Packaging! Thereafter,  a different version of the story appeared on PlasticsToday.com; this focused more on how the limitations of Ecovative’s manufacturing processes, couple with those inherent in thermoforming, dictated the overall design of the grow trays. Obviously I am biased, but I think this story is super clever insofar as it demonstrates how different packaging suppliers can collaborate in new and exciting ways, leveraging existing technologies like thermoforming and innovations in material science (ahem, growing packaging!) to facilitate process efficiencies  within the supply chain. I especially like how Ecovative’s Sam explained how thermoforming, unlike a lot of engineering processes, is “a bit of an art form,” giving merit to one of Dordan’s marketing slogans: “Dordan, the perfect blend of art and engineering.”  Neato! You may recall a video from Pack Expo that shows Sam and I discussing this collaboration; the GreenerPackage.com/Packaging World feature is as follow up to that discussion. I hope you like the photos of the thermoformed grow trays—I roamed around Dordan’s factory sticking the 21X21 inch tray here and there, finally finding a home for it sandwiched between a narrow cavity in one of our skids, ha!

 Next, our efforts to recycle thermoformed packaging are being featured in the Reporter’s Notebook series of Machine Design Magazine. This is one of the more technical interviews I have experienced, with questions as complex as: describe the waste management industry in America, yikes! Expect a digital version of the story latter this afternoon…(two hours later)…and here it is!

If I could reflect for a moment…how awesome is the PR/publishing industry in the packaging space?!? From blogging about our efforts to recycle thermoform packaging to having said efforts awarded the cover feature in Green Manufacturer Magazine to creating a press release describing our collaboration with Ecovative that subsequently caught the attention of Greener Package editor Anne Marie Mohan at Pack Expo, I can’t believe the success we have experienced getting our story out to a large and targeted audience via these news channels. So HOOHA to the packaging industry and its fabulous representation in the news via these proactive and innovative publishing houses.

Let’s see what now. I sent a follow up email to my friend at S+S sorting in regards to the results of their pilot looking to investigate the technical differences between reprocessing bottle-grade and thermoform-grade PET. Thanks for those of you who participated in my poll following my last post; more polls to come!

Last but not least, meet the Dordanites! As per a reporter’s request for inclusion in an upcoming publication, my father and Dordan CEO Daniel and my brothers and Dordan Account Executives Sean and Aric and yours truly participated in a photoshoot last week. Obviously there are a lot of other Dordanites—aside from those that carry the Slavin name—that make Dordan such a lovely place to work. From engineering to production to management, we are proud of our employees and while little to they know, they will soon be beckoned for a company photoshoot, muhahahaha.

Enjoy!

Dordan CEO Daniel explaining thermoforming

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Dan expanding on art of thermoforming

Dordanites looking all fly; Sales Manager Aric far right, CEO Dan second from right, Account Exec Sean left of Dan, and ME far left

Our more normal demeanor

My boys!

HA! I think this is silly

Do we see a pattern developing?!?

There we go!

Awwwww

Because you should never take yourself too seriously...

In my next post I will discuss (FINALLY) feedback from the SPC’s material health working group, which looks to develop indicators and metrics to assess the safety of materials used in packaging. This stuff gets pretty heady so make sure you bring your thinking cap!

Hello and happy almost Friday day!

Today we are going to talk about the process of deriving carbon from annually-renewable resources for synthesis into bio-based polymers. As per yesterday’s discussion, substituting bio-based carbon for petro-based carbon provides a value proposition in the context of material carbon footprint for plastic packaging.

Slide 7: Carbon Footprint Basics—Value Proposition

Consider the following chemical process for manufacturing traditional, fossil-based plastics:

Fossil feedstock (oil, coal, natural gas)–>Naptha–>ethylene/propylene–>polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP)

Now, consider the process of manufacturing bio-based plastics from a renewable feedstock:

Bio/renewable feedstock (crops and residues i.e. corn, sugarcane, tree plantations i.e. lignocellulosics, algal biomass i.e. algae)–>BIO monomers, sugars, oils (continue)

These BIO monomers, sugars and oils can then be synthesized into EtoH, which is then used to make ethylene/propylene, the building blocks of PE and PP;

OR, these BIO monomers, sugars and oils can be synthesized to make PLA and PHA.

The difference between something like PLA and the PlantBottle, therefore, is that the PlantBottle derives its carbon from biomass, as explained in the process above, yet has the same chemical composition as tradition, petro-based PET. Therefore, it is not designed to “biodegrade” in an industrial composting facility or others, whereas PLA, which is of a different chemical composition though it derives its carbon from, like the PlantBottle, an annually renewable source, is designed to “biodegrade” in the intended disposal environment as stipulated by the manufacturers of PLA. Check out the molecular structures of PLA vs. PP on the 7th slide of Narayan’s presentation; as you will see, the carbon, highlighted in red, can come from petro-based or bio-based feedstocks. Cool, huh!?!

Slide 8: Understanding the value proposition for bio carbon vs. petro/fossil carbon

Narayan then went on explaining the difference between old carbon (fossil fuel) and new carbon (crop residue/biomass). Consult the 8th slide of the PPT for an explanation of how old carbon is synthesized from new carbon.

Consider the following processes of synthesizing new vs. old carbon:

CO2 (present in atmosphere) + H20–>photosynthesis (1-10 years)–> (CH20)x +O2–>NEW CARBON (biomass, forestry, crops)

Vs.

C02+H20–>photosynthesis (1-10 years) –>(CH20)x–>–>–>(10,000,000 years)–>OLD CARBON (fossil resources i.e. oil, coal, natural gas)

He then argued that all the criticism about manufacturing plastics out of non-renewable sources is misplaced because it doesn’t really matter where you get the carbon from—be it old or new carbon. The issue, however, is the rate and scale at which we have been taking old carbon (oil) out of the earth: it is inherently unsustainable to continue to derive carbon from fossil fuel for synthesis into disposable plastic packaging because it takes millions of years to create old carbon from the process described above, whereas it takes just 1-10 years to derive new carbon from crop residue/biomass.

Does that make sense?

He concludes: “Rate and time scales of CO2 utilization is in balance using bio/renewable feedstocks (1-10 years) as opposed to using fossil feedstocks.”

Goodness!

And, for your viewing picture, here is a picture of my pops (and Dordan CEO) and I for our feature in the May edition of Plastics Technology magazine!