Researchers used a 3D printing method known as direct-light projection (DLP) to make silica fiber preforms. (Image source: John Canning, University of Technology in Sydney) 

A new 3D printing process developed by researchers at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia could drastically reduce the cost of manufacturing glass optical fibers. Not only would this lead to cost reductions in manufacturing the notoriously expensive fiber optic cables for telecommunications networks, it could also lead to new designs and applications.

The current fabrication process requires spinning tubes on a lathe with fiber cores that are precisely centered, which is labor-intensive, said John Canning who led the research team.

The new process relaxes some of the geometry requirements, which is one of the most complex parts of the process.

“With additive manufacturing, there’s no need for the fiber geometry to be centered,” Canning said in a press statement. “This removes one of the greatest limitations in fiber design and greatly reduces the cost of fiber manufacturing.”

The team published a paper on their work in the journal Optics Letters.

An evolution in fabrication

The researchers said their invention was informed by earlier research in which they fabricated fiber using a polymer material from a 3D-printed preform. Previously, it had been immensely challenging to use silica in this type of printing process because of the high temperatures (more than 1900 degrees Celsius) required to print glass.

“Thanks to a novel combination of materials and nanoparticle integration, we have shown it’s possible to 3D print a silica preform,” Canning said in the press statement. 

To fabricate silica glass, Canning and his team used a direct-light projection (DLP) 3D printer, which is commercially available and typically used to create polymer objects. For this type of fabrication, the printer uses a digital light projector to polymerize photo-reactive monomers.

Creating a silica object required modifying the process as well as the materials used. On the materials side, the researchers added silica nanoparticles into the monomer at amounts of 50 percent or greater by weight.

They then designed a 3D-printed cylindrical object that contained a hole for a core, and inserted the material mix of polymer and nanoparticles into the hole. This time, however, they changed the formula a bit, adding germanosilicate to the silica nanoparticles. This created a higher refractive index to allow for the integration of a range of dopants, the researchers said.

The next step in the process required a unique heating process called debinding, which removed the polymer from the materials mix to leave only silica nanoparticles bound by intermolecular forces behind.

Finally, by raising the temperature further, the researchers fused the nanoparticles into a solid structure that could be inserted into a draw tower, where they once again heated and also pulled the object to create the optical fiber.

The path to commercialization

To validate their process, the researchers fabricated a preform equivalent of a standard germanosilicate fiber that could be used to create multi- or single-mode fibers, Canning said.

They did run into a limitation in their work when they observed high light losses in the first optical fibers they printed, they acknowledged. However, Canning said they have since identified the issue and are working to remedy it.

“With further improvements to limit the light losses, this new approach could potentially replace the conventional lathe-based method of making silica optical fibers,” he said in a press statement.  

Using this process in place of current manufacturing would reduce costs across the board – not just in fabrication and material costs but also in terms of labor, since it also reduces training and the danger factor production workers face, Canning said.

The team is currently seeking to partner with a mainstream commercial fiber fabrication company to improve and commercialize the technology. The researchers also wish to accelerate research and drive new manufacturing approaches in this field.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard? Register to attend!

Now that the holiday season is upon us, 3D printers, both personal and commercial, are busy churning out festive decorations. But did you know that this technology can also create food, from desserts and simple side dishes to (in the near future) more complex, layered foods like mashed potatoes. Still, you don’t need a 3D printer to have a high-tech Thanksgiving with your friends and family. There are plenty of commercial IoT devices to aid the traditional cook – and even the sous chef of the future.

3D Printing 

First, let’s consider the decorations. A wide variety of colorful 3D printed Thanksgiving-themed prints are available to enliven the holiday table. If a nice centerpiece is needed, then download the CAD file for a simple turkey puzzle from Maker’s open 3D printing community known as Thingiverse, load up the appropriate filaments, print and assemble.

Image Source: Simple Turkey Puzzle, Thingiverse, by corben33  

If you’re a bit more adventuresome, you might try downloading and printing a slightly more complex Thanksgiving turkey light box. Be careful though to use tealight LED candles, otherwise the 3D printed lightbox will probably melt. That would be a nailed-it failed-it!

Now let’s consider the Thanksgiving meal. The same technology that can create almost anything – from an entire car to a tiny microchip – can also be used to produce edible food. In fact, the global 3D food printing market is a growth industry according to a recent Research and Markets report: Global $525 Million 3D Food Printing Market Analysis & Forecast 2018-2023.

3D food printing uses different pastes and materials to recreate food by relying on technology similar to fused deposition modeling (FDM) but with a dough instead of a plastic filament. This dough may consist of chocolate, sugar, chewing gum, tomato sauce and more.

While you can’t yet 3D print an entire Thanksgiving size edible turkey, you may soon be able to reproduce many of the side dishes like mash potatoes. The challenge for mash potatoes is that current food printers use only one printhead to extrude a single or a mixture of materials. Such a printhead cannot control the materials distribution on a plate whereas a multi-extruder printer could create a more visually appealing layering and texturing of foods such as mash potatoes. While still in the prototyping stages, a team of Chinese researchers at Jiangnan University have recently applied for a US patent on the 3D printing of mashed potatoes.

Holiday desserts are a bit easier to make as they typically require a single print head. Check out the aesthetically pleasing shape of a chocolate dome from 3DByFlow. I haven’t yet sampled their wares, but the chocolate sure looks good. ByFlow, founded in the Netherlands as a family business in 2015, is one of the companies in the growing market of 3D food printing.

IoT Eases Traditional Cooking Chores

Don’t yet have a 3D printer but still want to have a high-tech Thanksgiving? The IoT is here to help. Consider June, a connected oven that lets you control your baking and view your food from a smartphone. Or how about cooking that turkey (or Tofurky for your vegetarian friends and family members) in the “Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker.” It comes with a companion application for your smartphone to adjust time, temperature, and other factors.

When it comes to cooking, one of the more futuristic gadgets will soon be the solid-state RF cooker. The advantage of RF technology over the traditional magnetron-based microwave ovens are significant. The magnetron oven generates one power level at a time. In contrast, the solid-state cooker based on RF technology uses both power level control and frequency tuning to adjust the cooking conditions throughout the oven. In other words, you can cook a variety of different foods at the same time, e.g., turkey slices, potatoes and gravy, vegetables, and the like. Such precise cooking temperatures and locations on the plate are made possible by a number of solid state power amplifiers and antennas with closed-loop control to RF systems.’

While this technology has been available for a decade or so, it’s only recently been ready for prime time. Foremost in this effort has been Goji Food Solutions, an Israeli company that had developed an oven using solid-state power chips, RF energy devices and proprietary software. Together, these technologies and software allow the Goji-based oven to cook a variety of foods on a single plate even in the presence of utensils and metal cups.

For now, the first consumer RF cooking appliance that uses Goji’s technology will be in the industrial market. But competition in the commercial areas are already emerging. For example, Chinese appliance manufacturer Midea, in partnership with NXP Semiconductors, is developing the Semiconductor Heating Magic Cube. The Magic Cube combines NXP’s LDMOS RF power transistors that support the RF cooking module.

Image Source: IEEE IMS Show 2015 (Freescale-NXP demonstration, JB)

Whether you have access to a futuristic RF cooker, an IoT-enabled traditional oven or crock-pot, or a 3D food printer, technology can make this year a high-tech cooking adventure. Just be sure to include a few festive decorations and you will have nailed it.

Bridgestone off-road tires, like this Firestone Destination M/T made at the company’s Aiken, S.C. plant, are candidates to be made with a blend of recycled carbon black. (Image source: Bridgestone Americas)

Carbon black, the sooty by-product of incompletely oxidized petroleum that is used to reinforce the rubber in tires, is such a sought-after commodity that Bridgestone Americas, Inc. expects demand to outstrip supply.

To ensure the supply of carbon black so that it can keep making tires and as a step toward Bridgestone’s commitment to cut its carbon footprint in half by 2050, the company has started blending in recovered carbon black extracted from worn-out tires for use in its new tires.

Delta-Energy Group recovers the carbon black from this crumb rubber of old tires. (Image source: Bridgestone Americas)

Bridgestone started looking at the Delta-Energy Group, LLC’s work in this area starting in 2007, and the companies became partners on the project in 2014, with the goal of promoting industrial-scale recycling, or a “circular” economy.

“Bridgestone Group is deeply committed to advancing an environmentally sustainable society by supporting a truly circular economy,” said Nizar Trigui, chief technology officer, Bridgestone Americas, Inc. “Through this partnership with Delta-Energy Group, we hope to shape the future of our industry and ensure efficient mobility solutions for generations to come.”

Firestone agricultural tires like these will start using recovered carbon black. (Image source: Bridgestone Americas)

Extracting carbon black from old tires provides an 81 percent reduction in CO2 versus creating new virgin carbon black, Bridgestone reports.

The partners have understood the fundamentals of recovering carbon black and re-using it in new tires for a while, but the nitty gritty details have needed sorting out to ensure that the performance and wear characteristics of the new tires with recycled carbon black are exactly the same as those made only with so-called virgin carbon black made directly from petroleum.

Jamie McNutt, Technical Fellow for Bridgestone’s Product Development Group (Image source: Bridgestone Americas)

In the early days, the recovery process charred the old tires so totally that it there wasn’t much left of value, noted Jamie McNutt, Technical Fellow for Bridgestone’s Product Development Group. “The original materials were burned to the point it didn’t have any reinforcement left in the material,” she recalled. Because reinforcement is the purpose of adding carbon black to tires’ rubber, that meant the recovered material was not useful.

Since then Delta-Energy has shifted to a low-oxygen pyrolysis process that minimizes the burning and retaining more of the structure, McNutt said. So far, Bridgestone has bought the equivalent of 70,000 recycled tires worth of carbon black from Delta-Energy, while verifying the correct ratio of recovered carbon black to virgin in the agricultural and passenger car tires where it will be used.

The blend turns out to be about 80 percent virgin and 20 percent recycled carbon black, reports Jon Kimpel, Executive Director of Bridgestone’s New Mobility Solutions Engineering. The material will be used in the tires’ sidewall inner liners, not in the tread area, he added.

The goal is to recycle two million tires to recover and re-use their carbon black in 2020. “As Delta-Energy[’s capacity] grows, that will allow us to grow as well,” he said.

In contrast, the overall tire industry will be facing price increases and availability constraints for virgin carbon black due to tightening regulations that make it difficult for those suppliers to expand production, according to Kimpel. “Supply is not going to be able to keep up with the pace of product.”

Bridgestone makes a lot more than two million tires each year, so the recycling program won’t make the company’s operation fully “circular,” that is a very significant volume. “We’re really proud of what we’re doing,” Kimpel said, “not only in recovered carbon black, but in sustainability overall. It is a good first step.”

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.


As Thanksgiving approaches, I find myself thinking of things for which I am thankful. One of those things is technology.

Butterball turkey
A Thanksgiving staple in plastic film to seal in freshness and netting. Image courtesy Anthony Easton/flickr.

People often ask, what are the greatest technological achievements of all time? You’ve probably heard questions like this. I know I have. The answers are usually fairly typical: The steam engine—or the internal combustion engine. The movable-type printing press. The airplane. The personal computer. The internet. Putting human beings on the surface of the moon— and then bringing them back home.

These are all fantastic achievements, and they changed history. They also involve combinations of technologies, arranged in new and unique ways to do something big.

In my mind, great technological achievements are not mega events, they are subtle little breakthroughs that change everything. I think of the discovery of the simple machines, including the wheel—and the axle. The lever. The pulley. The inclined plane.

I think of breakthroughs in materials. The mixing of mud and grass to make bricks, the world’s first composite material. The firing of clay to create rigid, heat-resistant pottery, which allowed for water to be boiled. The smelting of copper and tin to make bronze, ushering in the Bronze Age. The alloying of iron with carbon, giving birth not only to the Iron Age, but to the making of steel, the world’s first synthetic material.

I think of breakthroughs in applied sciences. The discovery of the concept of density by Archimedes. That gave us the Eureka moment: Ah-hah! I have found it! The conversion of fat into soap by the action of heat in the presence of an alkali, like wood ash, a process now called saponification. I am thankful for the discovery of saponification. Where would mankind be without soap?

I think of breakthroughs in the creation of other synthetic materials: Polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride (aka Bakelite). Polyhexamethylenediamine-adipic acid (aka nylon). Polyethylene (aka PE). I think of the applications of those materials. Electrical insulators. Cable ties. Plastic bags. Duct tape. Saran wrap.

Saran wrap is a brand name for a line of PE film sold by S.C. Johnson & Co. It was originally used to describe a film made of polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC), which was discovered by Dow Chemical. I am thankful for the invention of plastic film. Where would we be without plastic film packaging for food? However, we do have issues with our use of PE film, including re-use, disposal, recycling.

My collection of PE film this month is larger than in past months and will probably end up being stuffed into a a 13-gallon plastic trash bag. It felt weird pulling that bag of its box. I am using a brand new bag—made of PE film—to be used for my recyclable film project. Of course, the box that the bag came from is made of 100% recycled cardboard.

This month, there are the usual small bags, including a small wrapper from a paint trim roller, 4 inches long, 3/8 inch nap. I think the roller and its fibers are made of polyester; not sure. Nothing beats a fresh coat of paint. But I am certain the wrapper is made of PE film. Also, the wrapper from some organic cherry tomatoes, on the vine. They looked so sweet when I bought them. Yesterday, they didn’t look so good. The tomatoes are now in the compost pile. The wrapper is in the bag of recyclable film (after being washed and dried, of course). And soon, a wrapper from a frozen turkey.

This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for PE film.

P.S.: I came across a website that has a page to find a collection site. Turns out there are dozens of nearby stores where I can drop off my clean plastic film, including Target, Kohl’s, Walmart, Vons and Lowes. Who knew?

Read part one of this series, which includes links to all of the other installments.

Eric LarsonEric R. Larson is a mechanical engineer with over 30 years’ experience in designing products made from plastics. He is the owner of Art of Mass Production, an engineering consulting company based in San Diego, CA. Products he has worked on have been used by millions of people around the world.

Larson is also moderator of the blog site, where he writes about the effective use of plastics. His most recent book is Poly and the Poopy Heads, a children’s book about plastics and the environment. It is available on Amazon.


In what is described as a world first, researchers in Australia and New Zealand have developed a 3D-printing process that is compatible with “controlled polymerization,” using visible light to control the makeup of polymers and “tune” their mechanical properties. The new process also enables 4D printing, by which the 3D-printed object can change shape or its chemical and physical properties can be altered to adapt to its environment. Advancing the recycling and reuse of plastics and supporting biomedical breakthroughs are among the potential applications.

Dial showing create and improve

Research teams from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia and the University of Auckland in New Zealand collaborated in the successful merging of 3D and 4D printing and photo-controlled, or “living,” polymerization. The method uses visible light to “create an environmentally friendly ‘living’ plastic or polymer [that] opens a new world of possibilities for the manufacture of advanced solid materials,” writes Caroline Tang in an article published on the UNSW website.

The research builds upon the 2014 discovery of PET-RAFT polymerization (Photoinduced Electron/energy Transfer-Reversible Addition Fragmentation Chain Transfer polymerization) at the UNSW Sydney Boyer Lab. Described as a new way to make controlled polymers using visible light, the technology was not compatible with 3D printing. “The rates of typical controlled polymerization processes are too slow for 3D printing, where the reaction must be fast for practical printing speeds,” explained Cyrille Boyer, lead author of a paper describing the research in Angewandte Chemie International Edition. Two years of research and hundreds of experiments eventually bore fruit with the development of a 3D-printing system that enabled the PET-RAFT polymerization technique.

By using visible light, the researchers are able “to control the architecture of the polymers and [to] tune the mechanical properties of the materials prepared by our process,” said Boyer. “This new process also gives us access to 4D printing and allows the material to be transformed, or functionalized, which was not previously possible.”

“With 4D printing, the 3D-printed object can change its shape and chemical or physical properties and adapt to its environment,” explained UNSW’s Nathaniel Corrigan, co-first author of the paper.

“In our work, the 3D-printed material could reversibly change its shape when it was exposed to water and then dried. For example, the 3D object starts as a flat plane and when exposed to certain conditions, it will start to fold—that’s a 4D material. So, the fourth dimension is time.”

The researchers envisage multiple potential groundbreaking applications for the new technology. The material could negate the need to recycle or discard plastics in some cases because the “new living material will be able to repair itself,” explained Boyer. As a “living” object, the plastic part can continue to grow and expand, he said. It would also enable advanced biological applications, such as tissue engineering, added Boyer.

“Current 3D printing approaches are typically limited by the harsh conditions required, such as strong UV light and toxic chemicals, which limits their use in making biomaterials,” Corrigan explained in the news release. “But with the application of PET-RAFT polymerization to 3D printing, we can produce long polymer molecules using visible light rather than heat. Using heat above 40 degrees kills cells, but for visible light polymerization we can use room temperature, so the viability of the cells is much higher.”

shape shifting textiles, body heat University Minnesota, shape memory alloys

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a new shape-changing textile that can be used for the development of next-generation smart clothing for space travel and other applications. (Image source: University of Minnesota)

A team at the University of Minnesota has developed a new shape-changing textile that can be used for the development of next-generation smart clothing for space travel and other applications. The material is responsive to temperature and can be used to create self-fitting garments powered only by body heat.

The textiles team includes professors and students in the university’s Design of Active Materials and Structures Lab and Wearable Technology Lab. The textiles resemble typical knits, but instead of traditional material, they are made from shape memory alloys (SMAs). These active materials change shape when heated.

“This technology is a showcase of what is possible when connecting smart materials and traditional textile architectures, Kevin Eschen, a graduate student who worked on the project, told Design News.

Eschen and fellow researchers envision the material can be used for next-generation clothing that can intelligently conform to a person’s body movements for the most optimal fit possible for complete freedom of movement. “I believe this technology highlights a very promising material-textile combination and hope that it inspires smart textile research using many other multifunctional materials and textile architectures (braiding, weaving, etc.) to enable the best smart textile product possible,” said Eschen.

Testing material potential

One area where such clothing would be needed is in the design of clothing for space exploration, which is why it’s not surprising that NASA partnered with the researchers to design and test the textile.

Specifically, the team—led by Eschen, graduate student Rachael Granberry and professors Julianna Abel and Brad Holschuh—studied and observed the unique dimensions and movements of a human leg. They then subsequently designed, manufactured, and tested a knitted garment using their SMA textile that can precisely conform to that topography.

“We have designed leg and wrist sleeves that self-fit to the human body upon donning,” said Eschen. “They are knitted fabrics that utilize shape memory alloy fiber – a nickel-titanium alloy – which has a temperature-dependent material stiffness.”

When body heat or an external force warm the fabric, the material stiffness changes and the fabric changes its shape.  “Through our fabric design process – designing the loop geometry and the knit pattern – we can predict the shape change and accomplish fabric conformity to the complex topography of the human body,” said Eschen.

Changing shape dynamically

Clothing created from the textile can easily transform from loose to tight-fitting, even bending uniquely to conform to places on the body that have irregular shapes, such as the back of the knee.

The team published a paper on its work in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies

The textile can be used to create compression garments that are initially loose fitting and easy to put on, but which could subsequently shrink to tightly squeeze those wearing them. However, this is just one of many uses of the material for next-generation clothing. “I believe [these garments] will be an integral part of our life, sensing physiological changes to provide comfort and support, as well as offering haptic feedback to communicate while maintaining a low profile and looking/feeling like traditional fabrics,” said Eschen.

The researchers plan to continue their work to integrate the textiles into full-sized garments, as well as to better understand on a holistic level how the materials work to better tailor and improve their performance. “Predicting the lifetime performance of these fabrics will also be an important next step toward their realization in products,” said Eschen..

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard? Register to attend!


BASF has introduced a particle foam based on a combination of several polyamide 6 grades. The particle foam reportedly excels with a wide range of unique characteristics: high temperature-resistance, outstanding stiffness, and strength as well as an excellent chemical resistance in contact with fuels, oils, and lubricants, for example.

Polyamide particle foam exhibits outstanding stiffness, strength, and excellent chemical resistance.

Additionally, the closed-cell foam structure offers exceptional compressive strength, a requirement for the use in crash relevant components that are exposed to high mechanical demands. Molded part densities can be adjusted across a wide range of 150 to 600 g/L. Because of this versatility, lightweight applications are possible as well.

“BASF continues its long tradition of developing particle foams. We started this project in close co-operation with our customer and now we are able to successfully produce various prototypes”, said Daniela Longo-Schedel, research engineer at BASF. “Thanks to the temperature stability and adjustable mechanical characteristics, the particle foam is suitable for a wide range of applications. Furthermore, it can be effortlessly processed on conventional expanded polypropylene (EPP) molding machines as well as with innovative water steam free technologies. We are working closely together with our customers to finalize the product development.”

BASF’s Ultramid grades are molding compounds on the basis of PA 6, PA  66 and various co-polyamides such as PA66/6. The range also includes PA 6/10 and semi-aromatic polyamides. The molding compounds are available unreinforced, reinforced with glass fibers or minerals and also reinforced with long-glass fibers for special applications. Ultramid is noted for its high mechanical strength, stiffness and thermal stability. In addition, Ultramid offers good toughness at low temperatures, favorable sliding friction behavior and can be processed without any problems.


Ever since someone—perhaps a scientist at Archer Daniels Midland back in the 1990s—discovered that polymer materials can be made from corn, the world has been on a tear to develop bioplastics out of everything imaginable. It’s like there’s a huge contest to see who can make plastic—specifically bioplastics—out of the weirdest stuff.

Mad scientist

The latest headline I saw broke the news that scientists were making bioplastics out of fish guts. I just couldn’t bring myself to read the article. Maybe there are a lot of scientists out there who just want to fiddle around and make plastics out of algae, switchgrass, sugar cane and a variety of other food stuffs, even soil bacteria “in a controlled fermentation environment” (PHA).

The rationale for creating so-called “natural” polymers rests on the idea that bioplastics are better because they come from nature: “PHA Comes from Nature, Returns to Nature,” says Danimer Scientific’s home page. But almost everything we humans make comes from nature: Aluminum, steel, iron, gold, paper, textiles, glass and, yes, traditional polymers all come from natural resources, which means that all of these materials are “natural.”

I understand that the key is getting value from these materials after their useful lifespan, either through recycling or waste-to-energy. Other alternatives, such as composting through a biodegradation process, don’t work so well. Glass doesn’t biodegrade. Archeologists studying early American colonies have dug up glass bottles that are 200 years old! Metals will eventually rust if left in the earth or in marine environments long enough, but remnants of iron fittings from ancient ships found at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea are a testament to the longevity of most metals. Of course, metal and glass in the marine environment sink to the bottom. The problem with plastic is that it floats, and, therefore, is visible.

You can make plastic from just about anything. Senior Reporter Eric Munson wrote an article in The Review, an independent student newspaper at the University of Delaware, “The Truth about Biodegradable Plastics” (Nov. 18, 2019), in which he interviewed McKay Jenkins, a professor of English, journalism and environmental humanities, about biodegradable plastics. “A plastic is anything made from a wide range of polymers regardless of the ingredients. So you can make plastic out of petrochemicals [chemicals obtained from petroleum and natural gas], but you can also make plastic out of potatoes, corn and soybeans,” Jenkins explained.

That is true, but there’s been some pushback from people who reject the idea of using food products to make plastic, given the number of people in the world who are “food insecure” and, thus, need food more than they need plastic bags made from food.

Jenkins noted an important factor in his interview with Munson: Biodegradability doesn’t offer much greater benefits than traditional plastics. “If [plastic] doesn’t break down [in the environment] it’s a problem,” he said. “If it does break down, it’s a problem.”

So the obvious answer is to make plastic bags, containers, cups, bottles and so forth out of traditional materials that come from the earth (oil, natural gas) so they can provide the tremendous benefits that come with such items, but educate people on keeping these items out of land and marine environments.

Munson also interviewed Melanie Ezrin, a junior public policy and environmental science major, who explained that the term biodegradable “means that plastic breaks down into ‘natural products,’ meaning nothing chemical or artificial. [Biodegradable plastics] don’t decay the way people think they do,” Ezrin said. “You hear the word ‘biodegradable’ and you think of throwing an apple into the woods.”

Ezrin points out what we in the industry have long known—anything made into plastic via an industrial process must use an industrial process to break it down. “You really have to break them down industrially,” Ezrin said. “If you just throw plastic in your backyard, it’s going to be there most of the time.”

Jenkins also noted to Munson that his home composter is “good at burning food,” but the compostable plastic he threw in has been sitting there for years.

Even some companies that manufacture bioplastics admit that the best way to get rid of bioplastic items at the end of their useful life is in landfills. “We believe it makes more sense to put renewable materials in the landfill instead of non-renewable materials,” Stephen Croskrey, CEO of Danimer Scientific, maker of Nodax PHA resin, told PlasticsToday in an interview published a few months ago. “In the event [it ends up as] litter, the [Nodax PHA] will break down, unlike fossil fuel–based products.”

Given all of that information and what we know about the many advantages of traditional plastics for use in retail bags, food and beverage containers and medical applications, why is everyone pushing so hard and spending so much time and resources to try and develop more polymers out of ever-stranger natural stuff?

Fish guts? Seriously?

Image courtesy J.J. at the English language Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]


Inovyn has launched its latest generation of PVC under the brand name Biovyn, becoming the world’s first commercial producer of bio-attributed PVC using a supply chain fully certified by The Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB). Manufactured at Sheinberg, Germany, Biovyn is made using bio-attributed ethylene, a renewable feedstock derived from biomass that does not compete with the food chain. 

Filipe Constant, Business Director Inovyn: “Through our sustainability program, we are developing a new generation of PVC grades that meet both the rigorous product quality and performance needs of our customers, whilst moving us closer towards a circular, carbon-neutral economy for PVC.

Biovyn is certified by RSB as delivering a 100% substitution of fossil feedstock in its production system, enabling a greenhouse gas saving of over 90% compared to conventionally produced PVC. Inovyn’s choice of an RSB-certified feedstock also demonstrates its commitment to working within the emerging bio-economy, adding to the extremely strong sustainability credentials of Biovyn.

Comments Filipe Constant, Business Director Inovyn: “Through our sustainability program, we are developing a new generation of PVC grades that meet both the rigorous product quality and performance needs of our customers, whilst moving us closer towards a circular, carbon-neutral economy for PVC.

“Driven by the increasing global focus on the circular economy, there is growing demand for a specialist, renewable PVC that decouples its production from the conventional use of virgin fossil feedstocks.  Biovyn meets that demand.

“Biovyn demonstrates that we can substitute the use of virgin fossil feedstocks without compromising the unique product qualities such as durability, flexibility and recyclability that make PVC one of the most widely used, sustainable plastics in the world.”

Biovyn is expected to have numerous value-added applications across a range of industry sectors, including highly specialized end-uses such as automotive and medical. 

Inovyn has been working closely with Tarkett since the early stages of product development.  The first application of Biovyn will be by Tarkett, who will source it for a new flooring collection.

Comments Myriam Tryjefaczka, Director Sustainability & Public Affairs for Tarkett EMEA: “Our partnership with Inovyn illustrates Tarkett’s commitment to push the boundaries of sustainable innovation.  Sourcing Biovyn for our upcoming new flooring collection is a key step in our journey to shift toward a circular economy model and respond to climate challenges.”

Rolf Hogan, Executive Director of RSB, comments: “We are extremely pleased to see Biovyn enter the market carrying an RSB certification, demonstrating its excellent sustainability credentials.  Offering a positive climate impact – in the form of a 90% greenhouse gas reduction – as well as proven social and environmental risk mitigation, this new product is a true leader in the emerging circular bio-economy.”


As a global leader in developing and producing responsible packaging for food and beverage, pharmaceutical, medical, home and personal care, and other products, Amcor is boldly stepping up to the plate to promote plastics as the material of choice. With a goal of educating consumers, customers and other stakeholders on the benefits of plastic packaging, Amcor (Ann Arbor, MI) recently launched a “Choose Plastic” marketing campaign. The multi-pronged initiative, which includes a new web page, an informative brochure and other materials, is designed to:

  • Tell the “PET story” with truth, strength and conviction, clearing up common misperceptions regarding plastic packaging;
  • demonstrate where PET stands versus other packaging types, including glass, cans and Tetra aseptic boxes;
  • help customers educate their employees, legislators and consumers on the benefits of plastic packaging.

Amcor's PET campaign

“Plastic packaging gives our customers a safe, responsible and recyclable way to deliver products to their consumers,” said Eric Roegner, President of Amcor Rigid Packaging (ARP). “PET is infinitely recyclable and its carbon footprint is less than glass and other packaging materials. But there is still room for improvement, which is why we are working together with our customers and industry partners to boost recycling rates, increase the proportion of recycled content in the plastics we use, and reduce the waste in landfills and nature. Our goal is to create an overall positive impact for all stakeholders.”

Not only are PET bottles and jars lightweight, shatterproof, transparent, recloseable and resealable, studies also show that they are infinitely recyclable, generate up to 70% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than other packaging types, require fewer fossil fuels to produce than aluminum cans and cost less to transport than glass. Additionally, 90% of the PET that goes into recycling bins gets recycled, while only 49% of cans, 40% of glass and 16% of Tetra aseptic boxes get recycled.

Roegner also noted that 97% of Amcor Rigid Packaging’s bottles and jars are designed to be recyclable. The company has pledged to develop all of its packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2025.

In addition, Amcor is working with organizations such as the Plastics Industry Association, NAPCOR and The Recycling Partnership to promote plastics, increase recycling rates and drive greater use of post-consumer materials. Amcor is also working with environmental organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund and Trash Free Seas Alliance to eliminate plastic waste.

“PET has a positive story to tell,” added Roegner. “Together with industry partners, we want to make sure that story gets told.”