The global markets for polyolefins are undergoing radical changes in balance as the advent of shale gas is moving production towards North America. The AMI leading expert in polyolefins, Noru Tsalic, has reviewed the market trends and the effects on the whole supply chain. He spoke on this subject at the annual industry forum, Polyolefin Additives in Germany and is scheduled to review the latest data in September 2013. Demands from end users are pushing the polyolefin industry to innovate and produce compounds that show better performance and offer more functions, and move towards greater sustainability. This is a challenge that is leading to increased cooperation between top scientists and business to fund research.
Packaging applications like film and rigid plastics containers are looking for active and intelligent materials to preserve the quality of fresh and processed food, whilst offering recycling options to meet environmental targets. The Fraunhofer IVV is developing active packaging options. Top polyolefin companies are also considering building in degradability for short-term packaging with the CNEP in France working alongside Basell Polyolefine Italia and Total Petrochemicals Research Feluy on degradable materials. Meanwhile Borealis and Lucobit are studying compounding of recycled polyolefins. The clear properties of polypropylene are highly prized in product presentation. From Japan, Rika and Adeka are innovating in the area of clarifiers and nucleating agents.At the opposite end of the scale, the construction industry demands long-term durability whatever the weather. This is advancing stabilisers, flame retardants and reinforced plastics. There are failure issues to be addressed in this sector. Some polyethylene pipes have been susceptible to damage from chlorinated water so this has been studied by the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, looking at degradation and antioxidant consumption. The Fraunhofer LBF has developed microscopic techniques to look at additive distribution after compounding and processing, like phenolic antioxidants in a pipe wall. As prevention is better than cure, the stabiliser options for construction and other long-term applications can be tailored to performance requirements. Expert companies such as Songwon International (now with Thomas Schmutz as the newly appointed Director Global Technical Service), Cytec Industries and Chemtura supply into this market. Flame retardants are critical in construction: Kabelwerk Eupen has reviewed the use of nanocomposites and Professor Wilen has worked with Professor Pfaendner on a project looking at weathering of flame-retarded plastics.
Polypropylene is often used in composites and this has its own compounding challenges: Millken has achieved weight reduction and improved scratch resistance with a new reinforcing agent. The Mondi Group specialises in both plastics and paper and is in a unique position to look at cellulose-PP composites in partnership with the Kompetenzzentrum Holz. Natural minerals can also be used in reinforcement and to impart other functions – additives from Kärntner Montanindustrie can help reduce shrinkage and warpage.