White PaperBiopolymer in Interior Protection Products:The quest for durability and economy In everything you build, there’s 800.222.5556 | inprocorp.com | facebook.com/inprocorp
Biopolymer in Interior Protection Products:White Paper The quest for durability and economy Executive Summary With the rise in concern over sustainability, members of the design community have increasingly demanded alternative plastics. Ideally, all manufacturers should be moving toward what are known as biopolymers or bioplastics – those polymers derived from renewable and often plant- based sources. As with any pioneering venture, R&D and the actual production of bioplastics in architectural products are fraught with their own challenges to producing durable products at price levels acceptable to the market. In addition, some have raised concerns that production of biopolymers may divert potential arable land from food production to industrial goods agriculture, with supposed impacts on world hunger. Definition of Interior Protection Products It’s important for us to define what we mean by interior protection products: They are items installed to help keep the interior of a building looking newer longer by reducing the amount of damage to doors and walls from carts, equipment, etc. and include: • Rigid sheet wall cladding • Impact-resistant handrails • Wall guards/Crash rails • Corner Guards • Door Frame Guards/Door Edge Protectors • Kickplates and fully clad doors These are items found primarily in CSI MasterFormat section 10 26 00 – Wall and door protection. The move to sustainable plastics Figure 1 represents what we’re calling “the continuum of plastic,” which illustrates the desire by many in the sustainable community to move further “away” from fossil fuel-based plastics, in other words using less and less coal, crude oil or natural gas and their derivatives. Fig. 1 The Continuum of Plastic Polyvinyl Chloride Polycarbonate/Acrylontirile Polyethylene Terephthalate High Density Polyethylene PETG + Polylactic acid More than half of all Polycarbonates are a Next are the polyesters HDPE is probably best Biopolymer blends hold construction products in the U.S. family of extremely with the abbreviations known as the material the current position as are manufactured from vinyl durable plastics that are PET and PETG. Bottled used to make milk jugs, the best plastic due to because of its durability, easy easily worked, molded water and other beverages and is recycled into lower fossil-fuel use. installation, cost-e ectiveness and thermoformed. are packaged in PET. plastic lumber. and ame resistance.
Polyvinyl chlorideof Plastic The Continuum (PVC)/Vinyl Polyvinyl Chloride More than half of all construction products in the U.S.White Paper are manufactured from vinyl because of its durability, easy installation, cost-e ectiveness and ame resistance. Common construction uses for vinyl are: residential siding and windows, wall covering, flooring, piping, and membrane roofing. For interior protection, rigid PVC is an excellent choice both for its impact resistance, color consistency, moldability and lower price point. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2006, about 331 million barrels of liquid petroleum gases (LPG) and natural gas liquids (NGL) were used to make plastic products in the plastic materials and resins industry in the United States. This represents 4.6% of total U.S. petroleum consumption. Almost 60 percent of the chemical makeup of Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) comes from salt. The manufacture of PVC is more energy intensive – high amounts of heat must be used to break apart the sodium chloride (NaCl) molecule to render the pure chloride needed to make vinyl monomer, the base PVC. When it comes to architectural products, no other material delivers higher levels of durability, more ability to be molded into an infinite number of shapes and colors, or the economics of vinyl. It is by far the most durable, cost effective building material when a pound-for-pound comparison is made. Nonetheless, the AEC community asked manufacturers to seek new alternatives to PVC. They wanted choices. And, for manufacturers, seeking less fossil fuel-based materials reduces exposure to serious price fluctuations in crude oil markets – producers want less commodity price volatility. What is “Infrastructure Plastic”? Vinyl is often referred to as the “infrastructure plastic,” and with good reason. More than half of all vinyl produced annually in the United States is used to manufacture construction or furnishing products, and more vinyl is used in construction than any other plastic. Vinyl is used so widely in the construction industry because of its durability, easy installation and cost-effectiveness. What’s more, the chlorine content in vinyl makes it inherently flame resistant. PC/ABS The Continuum of Plastic Polyvinyl Chloride Polycarbonate/Acrylontirile More than half of all Polycarbonates are a construction products in the U.S. family of extremely are manufactured from vinyl durable plastics that are because of its durability, easy easily worked, molded installation, cost-e ectiveness and thermoformed. and ame resistance. As we move to the right on the continuum, we come to the next types of plastic: polycarbonate/ acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or simply PC/ABS. Polycarbonates are a family of extremely durable plastics that are easily worked, molded and thermoformed. These plastics are probably best known to consumers as the base material for CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray Discs™, and are also used in police riot shields and automotive applications. The cockpit canopy of the USAF F-22 Raptor jet fighter is made from a piece of high optical-quality polycarbonate. ABS’s light weight and ability to be injection molded and extruded make it useful in numerous manufacturing products, such as drain-waste-vent pipe systems, musical instruments, golf club heads, automotive bumper bars, protective headgear, whitewater canoes, small kitchen appliances, and toys, including LEGO® bricks. As you can guess, PC/ABS is a blend of these two plastics that yields a stronger plastic. In architectural applications, PC/ABS is an extremely durable material for wall and door protection products. 1 http://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=988 2 http://18.104.22.168/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=34&t=6
PETG The Continuum of Plastic Polyvinyl Chloride Polycarbonate/Acrylontirile Polyethylene Terephthalate More than half of all Polycarbonates are a Next are the polyesters construction products in the U.S. family of extremely with the abbreviationsWhite Paper are manufactured from vinyl durable plastics that are PET and PETG. Bottled because of its durability, easy easily worked, molded water and other beverages installation, cost-e ectiveness and thermoformed. are packaged in PET. and ame resistance. Next on the continuum are the polyesters. The official names are polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and glycol-modified polyethylene terephthalate (PETG). They are thermoplastic polymer resins of the polyester family and are used extensively in the manufacture of beverage, food and other liquid containers. Look at the bottom of your water bottle, and you’ll likely see the PET abbreviation. PETG is used extensively in clear shelving in retail product and point-of-purchase display applications. In addition, through a process called encapsulation, decorative panels can be produced by sandwiching design elements in between two translucent PETG sheets . In addition, PETG has proven to be a tremendous base material for interior signage. However, unless UV stabilizers are added, PETG does not hold up well in exterior applications. PETG, a derivative or co-polymer of PET, is a clear amorphous thermoplastic that can be injection molded or sheet extruded. It can be colored during processing. When considering application in interior protection products, like crash rails for instance, PETG showed great promise in the quest for alternatives to other plastics. However, when used in building materials, PETG has a significant flaw – while more durable than many acrylics, it can be extremely brittle. This leads to two problems in the field: • Installers have trouble cutting and trimming PETG products – the material can splinter and shatter, which leaves a risk of sharp edges that can injure the craftsman. The brittleness can also lead to greater waste since broken parts must be discarded. • Poorer impact resistance – the whole purpose of interior protection products is to often absorb impact from carts and equipment. PETG in its pure form can’t take hard abuse … it cracks and breaks. So, while moving architecture away from oil-based polymers by using a more-sustainable plastic, there are serous drawbacks to using pure PETG in building materials due to its inherent brittleness. HDPE The Continuum of Plastic Polyvinyl Chloride Polycarbonate/Acrylontirile Polyethylene Terephthalate High Density Polyethylene More than half of all Polycarbonates are a Next are the polyesters HDPE is probably best construction products in the U.S. family of extremely with the abbreviations known as the material are manufactured from vinyl durable plastics that are PET and PETG. Bottled used to make milk jugs, because of its durability, easy easily worked, molded water and other beverages and is recycled into installation, cost-e ectiveness and thermoformed. are packaged in PET. plastic lumber. and ame resistance. Moving along the continuum, we come to High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), another of the petroplastics, that is probably best known as the material used to produce milk jugs. Additional applications include plastic lumber, folding chairs and tables, and use in plastic surgery for skeletal and facial reconstruction. Because of its high recyclability, HDPE consumer packaging can be reborn in other goods and materials. For interior protection products, the biggest gains come in the use of heavy HDPE plastic lumber for back- of-house applications at hotels, casinos and hospitals. For instance, to date, one company has placed more than 13 miles of HDPE wall guard at various Las Vegas resorts and casinos, primarily in service corridors, kitchens and loading docks (see Fig. 2). You can judge from its position on the continuum that HDPE is in a much better position than other plastics. However, while excellent in certain applications, it not ideal when considering the aesthetic qualities necessary for interior protection products. 3 http://www.eastman.com/Company/Encapsulation_Technology/Pages/Encapsulation_Overview.aspx
Enter the Biopolymers The Continuum of Plastic Polyvinyl Chloride Polycarbonate/Acrylontirile Polyethylene Terephthalate High Density Polyethylene PETG + Polylactic acid More than half of all Polycarbonates are a Next are the polyesters HDPE is probably best Biopolymer blends hold construction products in the U.S. family of extremely with the abbreviations known as the material the current position as PET and PETG. BottledWhite Paper are manufactured from vinyl durable plastics that are used to make milk jugs, the best plastic due to because of its durability, easy easily worked, molded water and other beverages and is recycled into lower fossil-fuel use. installation, cost-e ectiveness and thermoformed. are packaged in PET. plastic lumber. and ame resistance. As we reach the right side of the continuum, biopolymers hold the current position as the ideal plastic, and what all producers and users should strive for. They are considered the best by the fact they would use the least amount of fossil fuel in their manufacture, and are derived from rapidly renewable sources. As the name implies, biopolymers (or organic polymers) are a form of plastic derived from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable oil, corn starch, wheat gluten, or pea starch. Said another way, all bioplastics begin with a living organism. While there are numerous experimental forms of bioplastics being derived from such diverse sources as algae and shrimp shells, we are going to confine our discussion here to industrial-grade, plant-based biopolymers, and specifically polylactic acid (PLA). This focus on PLA will become apparent when we move to the discussion of economics and price shortly. Through the natural process of photosynthesis, plants produce and store carbon in starches. Much of the biopolymer used for industrial production comes from “harvesting” the carbon in the starches and breaking them down into natural sugars. Through natural fermentation (similar to making wine or beer) and then distillation and purification, the plant starch becomes a ready-to-use plastic called polylactic acid (PLA). By far, the largest current users of bioplastics are producers of disposable items like packaging and food serving utensils. The development of new and more-durable formulas should see bioplastics move into the textiles, automotive and electronics industries. One of the largest producers of plant-based biopolymer in the world is NatureWorks LLC, a joint venture between U.S. agricultural giant Cargill and Teijin, a Japanese-based materials company. According to the company’s website, the NatureWorks plant located in Blair, Nebraska, USA, has capacity to produce 300 million pounds (140,000 metric tons) of its Ingeo biopolymer. For forward-thinking building products manufacturers, a huge leap will occur in 2012 with the adoption of the U.S. Green Building Council LEED® 2012 standard. The current draft of the proposed standard contains a Materials and Resources credit for bio-based building materials. Next generation formula: Blending PETG and PLA As we have already stated, introducing PETG certainly moves the interior protection industry in the right direction by reducing the amount of fossil fuels needed to produce petroplastic-based building materials. But, PETG was too brittle for products such as corner guards, impact-resistant handrails and wall guards. The answer was found in the blending of PETG with other polymers in order to increase impact-resistance. The economics of supply and demand Like any commodity, the price of various plastics is driven by supply and demand. Given that PVC is so prevalent in the construction of buildings – from piping to wall guards to residential siding and membrane roofing – there is an abundant supply of base vinyl available. Like all petroplastics, there has been greater price volatility with shifts in the world oil market, often driven by instability in the oil- producing Middle East. When it comes to bioplastics, the challenge for manufacturers is on the supply side – low-scale experimentation with substances like algae and shrimp shells cannot produce adequate supply to offset petroplastics. As a result, companies have to turn to the one source that is of sufficient supply and, therefore, at a price that allows them to still profitably produce their products. Until other biopolymer sources are discovered and perfected to the level of industrial production, plant- based biopolymers – and specifically those derived from corn – are the only adequate source of bioplastic available. Plant-based PLA is the only plastic that can be considered a commodity level bioplastic (i.e., large-scale production, homogenous quality and availability at a reasonable price). 4 http://www.natureworksllc.com/
World food supply We close this white paper with a brief discussion of bioplastic production and the question of supplying food to the world. The argument goes something like this: If more crops are grown to make bioplastic, won’t that take away land to grow food?White Paper We have found that there has been little or no research on the “food vs. plastic” question. Perhaps it’s too early in the bioplastics saga. However, one illuminating report was published in the Aril 2009 issue of Bioplastics magazine. Entitled Land Use for Bioplastics , using solid statistical analysis, researchers Michael Carus and Stephan Piotrowski of nova-Institute GmbH in Hürth, Germany, made several cogent observations, which are paraphrased here: • There is adequate land under cultivation as well as sufficient production to feed the world • Hunger occurs due to failed distribution and logistics or inadequate financial resources • Even with projected population growth, the amount of arable land available for cultivation should support food needs and industrial demand well into the future • Industrial use of crops to produce biofuels and bioplastics has had little or no impact on the prices of consumable food crops • Bioplastics have had an impact 250 times lower than the impact of biofuels, meaning bioplastics have virtually no impact. Let us close by saying that we are well aware of and sympathetic to instances of human suffering due to starvation and malnutrition. We also are not advocating rampant industrial production over the needs of the world’s population. However, we find that Msrs. Carus and Piotrowski observations offer the first rational treatment of issue. 5 http://bioplastics-cms.de/bioplastics/download/land_use_bioplasticsMAGAZINE_200904.pdf