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Material developments for biodegradable agricultural films

Material developments for biodegradable agricultural films

15-Apr-13

The demand for automotive plastics which was reported at US$15.1 bln in 2012 is expected to be worth US$32.9 bln by the end of 2018, Tranparency Market Research, Asia Pacific had garnered the highest revenue share in the global automotive plastics market in the year 2012. Growing automotive demand, especially from developing markets, coupled with a strong trend to reduce vehicle weight is expected to drive automotive plastic demand in the near future. The automotive plastics market was dominated by Asia Pacific, which accounted for more than 50% of the total consumption by volume in the year 2011. This growth is primarily driven by the huge demand for automobiles in the rapidly developing economies within the region. Combined with improved design capability and the enormous reduction in weight and emissions, plastics have become one of the most important and indispensable materials in automotives and are expected to enjoy this market superiority in the coming years.

The instruments and technology used in designing and manufacture of automotive plastics in their various application segments are extremely cost intensive and this is one of the main drawbacks as it discourages new players from entering the fray. Raw materials for automotive plastics are majorly sourced from petroleum products and this has a direct impact on the price of finished products as the raw material prices are volatile and subject to the variation in crude oil prices. The automotive plastics are used in various automotive components such as bumpers, seating, dashboards, upholstery, internal, and external trims. The researches on composite materials, reinforced plastics, and polymers have come up with improved material qualities that make them suitable for use in interior, exterior, and under bonnet components of automobiles. The careful selection of these automotive plastics enables designers to improve durability, meet load bearing requirements, and achieve reduction in vehicle weight. As of year 2011 Asia-Pacific leads automotive plastics consumption volume by 52% followed by Europe (29%), North America (10%), and rest of the world (9%). Plastics find major applications in electrical components and interior and exterior furnishings of automobiles. The majority of the application market for automotive plastics is under the purview of these two application segments accounting for almost 70% of the total consumption. Plastics are also used in other parts in automobiles such as power trains, under the hood and chassis. The market for these applications is expected to show growth over the forecast period. Polypropylene (PP) has been the most widely used plastic in automobiles in recent years and is expected to hold sway for the entirety of the forecast period till 2018. Polyurethane (PU), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyethylene (PE) are the other major plastic materials that have been in great demand in automobile manufacturing. Polycarbonate (PC), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polyamides (PA) such as nylons and other plastics including polyoxymethylene (POM) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are also in great demand in various automotive applications. Polypropylene leads consumption by 36% followed by polyurethanes (17%), ABS (12%), composites (11%), HDPE (10%), polycarbonates (7%), and PMMA (7%) due their easy forming properties and their availability at cheaper price than other materials.

Polyethylene film biodegrades naturally, over a long period of time. Methods are available to make it more degradable under certain conditions of sunlight, moisture, oxygen, and composting and enhancement of biodegradation by reducing the hydrophobic polymer and increasing hydrophilic properties.

A degradable polyethylene film that helps crops grow better is likely to be commercially available within the next couple of years, as per PlasticsNews. The PE film acts like a greenhouse around seeds, trapping moisture and boosting germination rates. As the seedlings grow, the film, developed by Integrated Packaging Group Pty. Ltd. (IPG), breaks down. The film's unique feature is its ability to degrade above and below the ground. At six microns thick, it is about one third the thickness of regular agricultural films, but has the same mechanical properties. IPG's degradable film is applied mechanically when seeds are planted and buried at the edges to form a temporary greenhouse. The film is tailored to remain intact for three to six months before it degrades. IPG has worked with Australia's Cooperative Research Centre for Polymers (CRC-P) since 2005 to develop the degradable PE film. Researchers found the film improved crops' productivity, reliability and efficiency. Its benefits include assisting germination; improving water efficiency, because water is not lost through evaporation and transpiration; and reducing pest damage. The film's greenhouse effect accelerates the growing process so farmers can potentially produce two crops in one season. The researchers are in the final stages of commercializing the film and IPG then plans to export it. The degradable additives in the film vary, depending on the crops. For example, maize is an aggressive sub-tropical plant that grows upwards and can break through the film. Some Australian native trees are less aggressive, so the film must degrade before the plants break through. Trials with native species have found plants thrive under higher temperatures created by the film. Australian natives are currently grown to seedlings in nurseries, then manually planted. The film will enable substantial time and cost savings as miles of seeds can be planted in hours, eliminating the need for nursery growth initially.

With the addition of Ecovio® F Mulch, BASF is expanding its line of biodegradable plastic compounds in the form of a grade for use in the manufacture of agricultural films. In contrast to agricultural film made from conventional polyethylene (PE), film made from Ecovio F Mulch biodegrades. It is no longer necessary for farmers to retrieve the film from the field for disposal or recycling after the harvest. They can simply plow it under along with what remains from the plants. This saves time and reduces costs. Production of the film is also economical, since it can be manufactured at a lighter gauge than conventional PE film without any loss in performance. Since this resin can be processed on conventional PE extrusion machines without extensive modification, the processor can convert his equipment quickly and without great effort. The material is now available in commercial quantities around the world. The new material is a blend of Ecoflex and polylactic acid that is already optimized for agricultural applications - compounding is no longer necessary. In addition, this film can already be used at a thickness of 10 micrometers (µm) without experiencing tears and perforations when placed on the field by machine. Conventional PE film is usually at least twice as thick. The new plastic grade is suitable for the production of classical black and transparent but also for colored films. Moreover it is available in custom formulations for different vegetation times and climates.

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Windmoller  and Holscher 5 layer cast film line

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