Since its coming to the 3D printing scene, PLA (polylactic acid) filament has been a popular choice for users of 3D printers. With its lower melting point, a higher temperature of the build platform is not necessary as it is with ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). Labeled as biodegradable and made with renewable resources, one would feel very confident that they are being ecologically sensitive to the pollution revolution. Can that sincerely be achievable? Let’s take a closer look at PLA.
PLA is not a newcomer to the plastics industry. Developed in the early 20th century by E.I. duPont, it was deemed to expensive to produce commercially, as other resins were made using the plentiful petroleum resources of that time. Later in the 20th century (after the oil embargo) was when PLA rose to a commercially manufactured product through the use of corn kernels, although any starch based plant such as sugar cane can be used. That solves the renewable resource question, but what about being biodegradable?
Like every other petroleum based plastic, PLA will take hundreds of years to degrade on its own when buried in a landfill. The conditions are not suitable to begin the reaction to convert it back to lactic acid. PLA will biodegrade however, in a commercial composting facility in under 6 months, but most likely will not biodegrade in a residential composting pile for a long, long time if at all. So, PLA is biodegradable, but not when tossed into your municipal recycle bin!
Statistics exist from many sources about the percentage of plastic that is truly recycled. Estimates range from 9 to 25 percent. The remainder may end up in landfills or be incinerated. A fair amount of these plastics are referred to as “low quality , mixed plastic waste” and consist of LDPE, HDPE, PS and PP.
An England based company named Plastic Energy, Ltd. (PEL) has developed a process that converts these low quality waste plastics into a product called Tacoil. Tacoil is made through a thermal anaerobic conversion (TAC) that is sold to resin manufacturers for producing virgin, food-safe plastic pellets used in manufacturing consumer goods and packaging. PEL has two plants producing Tacoil, both located in Spain.
Sabic (a plastic resin manufacturer and one of Mainline’s resin suppliers), headquartered in Saudi Arabia, has announced agreements made with three strategic customers – Unilever being one of them – to launch a program to use certified polymers made with Tacoil for use in consumer products.
Dubbed “certified circular polymers”, the finished products could be making their way into our households later this year.
The circular world of plastics has now been created!
Even though 3D printing has been in the mix for over 30 years, only in recent times has it been made more affordable and user friendly enough for the consumer. I mean it was not breakthrough technology to combine standard printing software, which has been around for decades, with an extruder head to place molten plastic down versus ink.
The real technological work has been creating materials that change properties after being printed with 3D printers. Let’s call it 4D printing.
Part of the frustration for inventors in developing a new product is to cost effectively produce a prototype in order to prove out a design and its functionality before investing in production tooling and materials. An age old battle of ingenuity versus money for sure.
But an even deeper challenge is to find a knowledgeable and trustworthy company that will generously guide you through this process, and be able to offer knowledge, experience AND most importantly time; time to understand your goals and yes, hold your hand as required! – LOL!
Here at Mainline Manufacturing, we understand all about beginning a new product, and we are just the company you need to get that idea out of your head and into the marketplace. As a small, family owned business, each of us has a vested interest in you and your success. We offer inexpensive options to assist you in your endeavor.
Call us to speak confidentially about your idea. We will try our best to build a solid relationship with you and help get you off to a great and profitable start!