Are biobased TPEs the answer to a more environmentally friendly future?

Smithers Rapra conducted a Q&A session with Thermoplastic Elastomers World Summit 2016 speaker Thomas Köppl, Manager of Central Technology and Development Center HEXPOL TPE on biobased TPEs and what this means for the future of the industry.

Thomas Köppl, Manager of Central Technology and Development Center, HEXPOL TPE

Thomas Köppl studied Material Science at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and did his PhD at University Bayreuth where he followed up with polymer science and plastics engineering. He worked in the polymer foam industry before joining HEXPOL TPE in 2015. 

The main focus of his work is group developments based on global market needs as well as R&D based on new raw materials.

Smithers Rapra: What would you say are the 3 main advantages of biobased materials?

Thomas Köppl: 

  1. Sustainability: Biobased plastics help to reduce the usage and dependency on limited fossil resources, which are also expected to become more expensive in the coming decades.
  2. Improved carbon footprint: Plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow. By using these crops to create biobased plastic products, greenhouse gases are removed from the atmosphere.
  3. Life Cycle Assessment: As many bioplastics can be recycled, they have the potential to contribute to an improved LCA. They can first be used for products (both as virgin and recycled materials), then at the end of the product life they can be used for renewable energy generation.

Smithers Rapra: Your presentation will mention bio-based TPE applications; do you think that this is a viable option for the future to become more environmentally friendly?

Thomas Köppl: Using biobased materials can contribute to a more environmentally friendly plastics industry. It is also important to consider how the raw materials, compounds and the final products are produced. Adopting efficient production practices and materials will also help to save resources and energy. The design and durability of products, as well as the end of the product life are also considered as part of an improved LCA.

Previously, one of the main targets for bioplastics was mass produced single-use disposable items such as food packaging and carrier bags which were seen as the largest environmental offenders. Increasingly there is a push to also look at how bioplastics can be used in more durable items that are used longer-term. At the Thermoplastic Elastomers World summit, we will demonstrate how Dryflex Green TPE compounds have the potential to support this transition as they can be used in many applications that currently use conventional TPE compounds.

Smithers Rapra: Within the industry you serve, what changes or developments have you noticed recently?

Thomas Köppl: Purchasing power favours products from sustainable resources. A globally connected and ecologically conscious consumer base is challenging industry to use smart technology and materials to deploy our resources in a sustainable way. We can therefore see a growing trend for companies to introduce a ‘bio, eco or green’ version to their existing product lines. This is helping to drive the demand for biobased TPEs.

Smithers Rapra:  What are you most looking forward to by attending and speaking at the conference in Cologne in November?

Thomas Köppl: The TPE industry is dynamic and constantly evolving, in Cologne we’re looking forward to exchanging ideas and discussing new and emerging market demands. 

View the Thermoplastic Elastomers World Summit 2016 programme here >>

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