Bio-Based Plasticizers Stretch Production Capability

October 19, 2021 |

By Alper Yarasik, Global Industry Manager – Plasticizers, Cargill Bioindustrial

Special to The Digest

There’s no question that consumers and manufacturers around the world are demanding materials made without petrochemicals, especially where potential concerns around toxicity and sustainability will continue to be a priority.

As a response, the industry is seeing more innovation across the plasticizers value chain, transforming vegetable oil into highly functional compounds that bring benefits like flexibility, durability and heat stability to a wide range of industrial products.

The ability to remove or reduce the level of toxic phthalates in everyday, household products is driving a search for new materials options across nearly every product manufacturing category, from home goods to construction, clothing, building materials and other commercial uses.

Key Performance Drivers

Bio-based plasticizers are leading the way in this manufacturing evolution given its unique properties that allow for less material needed to meet performance goals, faster fusion, better heat stability, requiring less stabilizers, and many other key performance indicators.

And they are proving to not only meet, but exceed, more conventional (petro-based) processes by delivering strong results when measured against proven industry standards. They include:

  • Compatibility: Plasticizers are usually expected to have a high level of compatibility. This is a measure of affinity between the plasticizer and the polymer and is often the primary parameter for permanence of the plasticizer in the polymer. Compatibility assures the plasticizer stays put to provide the desired softness and flexibility. If the plasticizer has poor compatibility it can lead to blooming which can make the plasticizer fugitive, and lead to the polymer becoming brittle, stiff, hard, or weak.
  • Volatility: Limiting the volatility of the plasticizer keeps it from flashing off or evaporating during processing, which can starve the polymer of plasticizer needed to give it the characteristics required in the application. It also limits the amount of plasticizer that will enter off gas into the air, which is a concern for indoor air quality standards and fogging issues.
  • Exudation/Extraction/Migration: In a prevalent theory of how plasticizers work they are quite mobile in the polymer. While good compatibility will keep plasticizer tied up well in the polymer, the plasticizer will naturally be present in some amount at the surface. Exudation is generally a problem where the plasticizer moves to the surface at a rather rapid rate, making the surface oily or slick. This can impact printability, aesthetics, and lamination of layers, among other concerns. Extraction occurs when the polymer is exposed to a liquid which draws the plasticizer out at an increased rate. Common materials that can cause extraction issues in some systems and applications are gasoline, oil, water, solvents, and soap. Migration is when two polymers are in contact, and the plasticizer moves back or forth between them. This can rob the polymer of plasticizer and potentially soften the other polymer that was not intended to be soft. All of these are related to compatibility.
  • Efficiency: This is a measure of the “bang for your buck”. Efficiency is how much plasticizer is necessary to achieve the desired softness or flexibility. Highly efficient plasticizers can reduce the total amount or loading of plasticizer, which can lower costs and reduce potential for compatibility issues.
  • Cold Temperature Flexibility: When polymers experience lower temperatures, they generally become stiffer and brittle. Plasticizers can lower the temperature when this starts to occur. Plasticizers with good low temperature performance can keep a polymer soft and flexible even in harsh, cold conditions.
  • Thermal Stability: PVC naturally breaks down when exposed to heat. This degradation of the vinyl causes color formation, and ultimately loss of all physical properties; it can turn black and fall apart. To inhibit this process, heat stabilizer additives are added to limit the degradation of the vinyl. The general heat stability of PVC can be affected by plasticizers also, with some which have inherent chemical mechanisms to combat the degradation process. This could potentially lead to less reliance on costly heat stabilizer additives.
  • Faster Fusion: PVC is somewhat unique in that it is a thermoplastic that changes structure when initially heated and cooled, binding the ingredients into a homogeneous network. This process is often called fusion and can be a limiting factor in the getting the vinyl into its final form for the application. Plasticizer can often affect how much heat is necessary to achieve fusion. This can translate to lower temperatures during the process, which means lower energy use for cost savings and less energy consumption for a leaner and greener process. It can also translate to faster processing times, as the time necessary at heat to achieve fusion in the process can be reduced. This can translate to more product out the door in a shorter timeframe.

Easing Supply Chain Dependance

In addition to holding up to stringent performance testing, sourcing plant-based oil domestically allows manufacturers to independent of the volatile petrol supply chain. Since the pandemic hit, shipping materials around the world has been met with unprecedented bottle necks, delaying production and delivery of vital home goods, building materials and other key infrastructure materials.

Most of the United States’ bio-industrial materials are derived from feedstocks grown and processed in the country, providing greater accessibility, faster delivery times and higher cost effectiveness.

Global Players Step Up

Given all these attributes, combined with the overall environmental upside, bio-based plasticizers are revolutionizing how everyday items, like flooring, clothing, wires, cables, sporting goods, toys, construction materials and more are being made.

That’s why the global ag and manufacturing companies, like Cargill, are getting into the industry and recently launched BioveroÔ, its first bio-based plasticizer.

Biovero is the end-result in a full-scale, end-to-end production capability that better serves its industrial customers with nature-derived alternatives to traditional petroleum-based additives.

These specialty oils, or epoxides, are key components for Cargill’s existing portfolio of bio-based plasticizers and polyols. This full spectrum system allows Cargill full control of its production process, transforming its commodity soybean oil into bio-based plasticizers and polyols used to make a broad range of products that support the conveniences of everyday life, such as shower curtain liners, tiles, carpets and furniture.

About the Author

Alper Yarasik, Global Industry Manager – Plasticizers at Cargill Bioindustrial oversees product innovation with Cargill’s Bioindustrial division where he focuses on advancements in bio-polyols, thermosets, performance chemicals, construction chemicals and paint industry, product development and green chemistry. He holds a Master of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Tex

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