Newsflash

The drive for lightweight materials to reduce overall cost and environmental impact for automotive manufacturers is nothing new.  Fuel economy attracts car buyers too. That is how majority of steel parts have been replaced in F-150 pickup truck by aluminum parts, reducing overall weight over 500 pounds. Then there are alloys, carbon fiber and plastics composites.The ambition for lighter vehicles did not stop with alloys (magnesium, aluminum), and/or composites (glass, carbon fibers).  Recently, Japanese researchers at Kyoto University led by Professor Hiroaki Yano along with its industrial partners (Denso Corporation and Daikyo-Nishikawa Corporation) reported that they were developing cellulose nanofiber based materials for automotive as well as aircraft parts to reduce environmental footprint while increasing product performance.Inevitable questions are: 1) would these materials be cost effective? 2) What would be the service life of these products compared to the current ones? 3) How about the parts’ safety in situations like crash or fire?A final question that an automaker has to ask is: what would be the pay back time to replace current production line (machinery) to CNF based plastics line?Reference: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/08/15/business/researchers-japan-use-wood-make-cellulose-nanofiber-auto-parts-stronger-lighter-metal/#.WbAIKeTXuUm...
We know polycarbonates mostly from its use in plastics water bottles, safety goggles, smart phones, structural panels (glazing) and the list goes on.  A quick look at Wikipedia gives a spectrum of applications.However, polycarbonates have its weaknesses along with the BPA (bis-phenol) controversy. Polymers such as polysulfates and polysulfonates have similar if not better mechanical properties than polycarbonates.  The issue has been how reliably scale-up the manufacturing process of polysulfates and polysulfonates?“Click chemistry” is a concept in organic chemistry by which highly reactive reactions provide high yielding products and require little to no purification.  The concept was introduced by Nobel Prize winner Professor K. Barry Sharpless in 2001.A recent work published in Nature Chemistry, by a team of researchers from The Scripps Research Institute (La Jolla), Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (Berkley), California and Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry & Soochow University, China claimed that reduced cost of catalyst, product purity, and by-product recycling make their work ready to move from laboratory research to industrial process.Chemists are at work indeed!References:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PolycarbonateK. Barry Sharpless et al; Nature Chemistry, 2017 DOI: 10.1038/nchem.2796...
In a recent The Atlantic interview Bill Gates made a wish on an energy miracle, “Here’s a source of energy that is cheaper than your coal plants, and by the way, from a global-pollution and local-pollution point of view, it’s also better”.  The race is on to find that source. One such energy source is solar energy. We all know that solar energy can be harnessed to generate thermal energy or electrical energy for use in the residential and/or in the commercial applications.  Any material that can store Solar Thermal Energy is called Solar Thermal Fuel (STF).  The quest to harvest solar energy, store the same and use it when needed has been the focus of research in industry and academia alike. For the first time, Professor Grossman’s team at MIT, Cambridge (USA) has come up with a new approach which uses polymer Solar Thermal Fuel (STF) storage platform utilizing STF in its solid-state.  According to the published article, researchers stated, “Closed cycle systems offer an opportunity for solar energy harvesting and storage all within the same material. This approach enables uniform films capable of appreciable heat storage of up to 30 Wh kg?1 and that can withstand temperature of up to 180 °C.”How the STF process works?Certain molecules (chemicals) can have 2 different stable structural forms. These structures are called conformations.  When original molecular conformation is exposed to sunlight, the molecule gets charged and the original conformation changes to the other and stay in that charged conformation for a long period.  The charged molecule snaps back to their original shape (conformation), when triggered by a very specific temperature or other stimulus generating heat in the process. Currently, developed polymeric film can release heat about 10 degree C above the surrounding temperature. Film property improvements are underway. German auto company BMW, has sponsored this research. Where the potential application lies - your guess is as good as mine.References:The Atlantic, p 56, November 2015Zhitomirsky, D., Cho, E. and Grossman, J. C. (2015), Solid-State Solar Thermal Fuels for Heat Release Applications. Adv. Energy Mater., 1502006. doi:10.1002/aenm.201502006...
In a recent The Atlantic interview Bill Gates made a wish on an energy miracle, “Here’s a source of energy that is cheaper than your coal plants, and by the way, from a global-pollution and local-pollution point of view, it’s also better”.  The race is on to find that source. One such energy source is solar energy. We all know that solar energy can be harnessed to generate thermal energy or electrical energy for use in the residential and/or in the commercial applications.  Any material that can store Solar Thermal Energy is called Solar Thermal Fuel (STF).  The quest to harvest solar energy, store the same and use it when needed has been the focus of research in industry and academia alike. For the first time, Professor Grossman’s team at MIT, Cambridge (USA) has come up with a new approach which uses polymer Solar Thermal Fuel (STF) storage platform utilizing STF in its solid-state.  According to the published article, researchers stated, “Closed cycle systems offer an opportunity for solar energy harvesting and storage all within the same material. This approach enables uniform films capable of appreciable heat storage of up to 30 Wh kg?1 and that can withstand temperature of up to 180 °C.”How the STF process works?Certain molecules (chemicals) can have 2 different stable structural forms. These structures are called conformations.  When original molecular conformation is exposed to sunlight, the molecule gets charged and the original conformation changes to the other and stay in that charged conformation for a long period.  The charged molecule snaps back to their original shape (conformation), when triggered by a very specific temperature or other stimulus generating heat in the process. Currently, developed polymeric film can release heat about 10 degree C above the surrounding temperature. Film property improvements are underway. German auto company BMW, has sponsored this research. Where the potential application lies - your guess is as good as mine.References:The Atlantic, p 56, November 2015Zhitomirsky, D., Cho, E. and Grossman, J. C. (2015), Solid-State Solar Thermal Fuels for Heat Release Applications. Adv. Energy Mater., 1502006. doi:10.1002/aenm.201502006...
Reliable and high performance lithium ion batteries commonly known as LIBS are highly sought after product by industries. We all have heard stories about laptops, electric vehicles, airplanes catching fires due to LIBS. Underlying problem is the battery overheating. Preventing batteries from overheating is crucial to the public safety.  Now a team of researchers at Stanford University designed a thermo-responsive (heat sensitive) plastic composite film made from polyethylene and spiky nickel microparticles coated with graphene which shuts down the battery if the temperature is too high.         In a recently published work led by Yi Cui and Zhenan Bao of Stanford University, USA concluded “Safe batteries with this thermoresponsive polymer switching (TRPS) materials show excellent battery performance at normal temperature and shut down rapidly under abnormal conditions, such as overheating and shorting.” How practical this design approach is? Time will tell.References: Y. Cui, Z. Bao et al Nature Energy vol.1, Article number: 15009 (2016); DOI: 10.1038/nenergy.2015.9Chemical & Engineering News, Page 7, January 18, 2016...
In aviation industry, the focus is how to improve fuel safety and handling. Mike Jaffe and Sahitya Allam gave their perspective on safer fuels by integrating polymer theory into design (Science, 350, No. 6256, p. 32, 2015).Mist (generated from the fuel) is much more flammable than the liquid and that is why anti-misting kerosene interferes with mist formation when a low percentage of a polymer is added into it.  The problem however, is that the polymer chain undergoes scission during handling and can’t assist in suppressing mist formation. The answer comes from a recent paper published in the Journal Science by Professor Julia Kornfield and her cross-functional team at Caltech, Pasadena, USA. The group designed a megasupramolecules having polycyclooctadiene backbones and acid or amine end groups (telechelic polymer) which is short enough to resist hydrodynamic chain scission while protecting covalent bonds through reversible linkages. Yes, polymers can be designed to suit our societal needs including aviation fuel safety.Reference: M-H Wei, B. Li, R.L. Ameri David, S.C. Jones, V. Sarohia, J.A. Schmitigal and J.A. Kornfield; Science, 350, (6256), pp. 72-75 (2015)...
At the TED conference, Carbon3D, a Vancouver based company touted a radical 3D printing technology and named it CLIP or Continuous Liquid Interface Product. CLIP grows parts instead of printing them layer by layer. It harnesses light and oxygen to continuously grow objects from a pool of resin.  The result: make commercial quality parts at game-changing speed.  CLIP is 25 to 100 times faster than traditional 3D printing technique.  To make the point, Carbon3D web site provides a head-to-head comparison of CLIP to Polyjet, SLS and SLA.[Press release: March 16, 2015, Vancouver, Canada.  www.carbon3D.com]...
Self-healing plastics has been around for a while. Applications include self-healing medical implants, self-repairing materials for use in airplanes and spacecrafts. Even scientists have made polymeric materials that can repair itself multiple times. A recent report in Science describes a significant advance in self-healing plastics. The authors describe a product that mimics how blood can clot to heal a wound. When the plastic is damaged a pair of pre-polymers in channels combines and rapidly forms a gel, which then hardens over 3 hours.The authors demonstrated that holes up to 8 millimeters wide can be repaired. The repaired parts can absorb 62% of the total energy absorbed by undamaged parts.  Science never stops.Reference:S. R. White, J. S. Moore, N. R. Sottos, B. P. Krull, W. A. Santa Cruz, R. C. R. Gergely; Science, Restoration of Large Damage Volumes in Polymers, Vol. 344 no. 6184 pp. 620-623; (9 May 2014). ...
Knowingly or unknowingly, flexible electronics has become a part of our daily life.  Transparent conductive films (TCFs) are used in mobile phones, tablets, laptops and displays.  Currently, Indium Tin Oxide or commonly known as ITO is the material of choice.  But use of ITO has some major disadvantages and these are brittleness, higher conductivity at greater transparency, and supply of Indium.  This is where non-ITO materials come into play. Based in St. Paul, Minnesota (USA), Cima NaoTech’s uses its SANTETM nanoparticle technology, a silver nanoparticle conductive coating which self-assembles into a random mesh like network when coated onto a flexible substrate such as PET and PC.  According to a recent press release, the company stated SANTETM nanoparticle technology enabled transparent conductors in a multitude markets from large format multi-touch displays to capacitive sensors, transparent and mouldable EMI shielding, transparent heaters, antennas, OLED lighting, electrochromic and other flexible applications.  Cima NanoTech is working with Silicon Integrated Systems Corp. (SIS) of Taiwan and using its highly conductive SANTE FS200TM touch films to develop large format touch screens.References: Press release, San Diego, June 03, 2014; www.cimananotech.com ; http://www.cimananotech.com/sante-technology ; http://www.sis.com/...
In an article appeared today (January 29, 2014) in The Guardian newspaper, Stuart Dredge wrote, “From jet parts to unborn babies, icebergs to crime scenes, dolls to houses: how new technology is shaking up making things”1. Mr. Dredge was speaking about 3D printing technology.  The heart of this technology is the 3D printer itself. Stratasys, a company headquartered in Minneapolis, USA is the manufacturer of 3D printers.  It recently announced the launch of Color Multi-material 3D Printer, the first and only 3D printer to combine colors with multi-material 3D printing.  According to the press release2, by using cyan, magenta, and yellow, multi-material objects can be printed in hundreds of colors.  The technology is based on proven Connex technology.  While the base materials are plastics and elastomers, they can be combined and treated to make finished products of wide ranging flexibility and rigidity, transparency and opacity.  Designers, engineers and manufacturers can create models, mold, and parts that match the characteristics of the finished production part. This includes achieving excellent mechanical properties.  According to the manufacturer, print job in the newly revealed printer can run with about 30 kg of resin per cycle and prints as fine as 16 micron layers for models.  No wonder why some call the new Color Multi-material 3D printer a groundbreaking stuff.References: 1. www.theguardian.com.technology/2014/jan/29/3d-printing-limbs-cars-selfies (January 29, 2014)2. http://investors.stratasys.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=821134 (August 3, 2014)...
Instead of stitches or skin staples, doctors use skin glue to close wounds. The glue joinsthe edges of a wound together while the wounds heal underneath. Most of the timeskin glue is used for simple cuts or wounds. According to the paper published inScience Translational Medicine, there are no clinically approved surgical glues thatare non-toxic, bind strongly to tissue, and work well in wet and highly dynamicenvironments within the body. This is the reason why this published work is promisingwhere infants born with heart defects would benefit tremendously. Researchers at the Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston have engineered ‘bio-inspired’ gluethat can bind strongly to tissues on demand, and work well in the presence ofactively contracting tissues and blood flow. The authors of the paper show howthe glue can effectively be used to repair defects of the heart and blood vessels during minimally invasive procedures. [References: P. J. del Nido et al; Sci. Transl. Med., DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3006557; See also, www.geckobiomedical.com/news/gecko-biomedicals-co-founde.html]...
Stability of organic electronics in water is a major research challenge. For this reason,organic electronics has yet to see any sensing application in aqueous environment.However, as understanding of underlying mechanism of stability aspect is becomingclearer, new developmental efforts to make water compatible organic polymer devicesare taking place. Recently, Professor Zhenan Bao’s group in the department of chemical engineering at Stanforduniversity revealed in a paper published in the journal of Nature Communications thatsolution- processable organic polymer could be stable under both in freshwater andin seawater. Developed organic field-effect transistor sensor is able to detect mercury ionsin the marine environment (high salt environment). Researchers believe that the work hasthe potential to develop inexpensive, ink-jet printed, and large-scale environmental monitoring devices. [References: O. Knopfmacher, M.L. Hammock, A.L. Appleton, G. Schwartz, J. Mei, T. Lei, J. Pei,and Z. Bao; Nature Communications, 5, 2954, January 6, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3954]...
Insulin, the wonder medicine for diabetes was discovered about a century ago.Since insulin does not get into the blood stream easily, diabetes patients oftenhave injected themselves with insulin. Now a group of scientists led by Dr. Sanyog Jainat the Center for Pharmaceutical Nanotechnology of National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research in Punjab, India has designed a polymerbased package for oral insulin administration. The package design addresses two major obstacles, 1) digestive enzymes must notdegrade insulin prior to its action and 2) the insulin gets into the blood stream.The package contained folic acid functionalized insulin loaded in liposomes.To protect the liposomes (lipids or fat molecules) they were alternately coated withnegatively charged polyacrylic acid (PAA), and positively charged poly allylamine hydrochloride. Studies were conducted to compare the efficacy of bothdelivery systems: designed polyelectrolyte based insulin and standard insulinsolution. Effects of oral administration lasted longer than that of injectedinsulin, authors reported in a recent article in Biomacromolecules. [Reference: A.K. Agarwal, H. Harde, K. Thanki, and S. Jain; Biomacrmolecules, Nov. 27, 2013;DOI: 10.1021/bm401580k]...
Research in the area of stretchable electronics is heating up!  Thanks to polymers. Led by Professor George M. Whitesides of Harvard University (USA), a team of researchers have demonstrated in a recently published paper in Science that ionic conductors can be used in devices requiring voltages and frequencies much higher than commonly associated with devices using ionic conductors.  The team showed for the first time that electrical charges carried by ions and not electrons, can be utilized in fast-moving, high voltage devices.As a proof of concept, the authors of the study built a transparent loudspeaker that produces sound across the full audible range i.e., 20 Hz to 20 kHz.  Components [such as VHB 4910 tape (acrylic tape with PE liner), polyacrylamide hydrogel containing NaCl electrolyte] used for the high speed, transparent actuators are described in the paper.Tissues and cells are soft and require stretchable conductors for biological systems. Many hydrogels are biocompatible which makes this work particularly an important one. The design of gel-based ionic conductors is highly stretchable, completely transparent and offer new opportunities for designers of soft machines.   [Reference: C.Keplinger, J-Y. Sun, C.C. Foo, P. Rothemund, G.M. Whitesides, and Z. Suo; Science, 341 (6149), pp. 984-987 (2013); DOI: 10.1126/science.1240228]...
Interweaving biological tissue with functional electronics, one can make bionic ears.  NASA has tested 3D-printed rocket engine part.  Then why not 3D print yourself?Well, Twinkind, a German start-up company is now offering enthusiasts statues of themselves for display.  How this works?  A full body scanner takes an image of the customer’s body, transfers the file to the printer after which 3D printer laser sinters a composite powder layer by layer into the customer image.Can we dare to say that Madame Tussauds wax figure of Voltaire can now be 3D printed in polymers soon!  [Reference: www.twinkind.com ]...
Polymer membranes have become a leading contender in numerous separation processes.  Be it in gas (air, hydrogen etc.) or be it in water purifications (salinated water, waste water etc.).  Not only polymer membrane technology helps reducing the environmental impact but also it is cost-effective.  Fracking in shell gas is one of many examples. New advances in drilling technology (such as horizontal drilling) have led to new hydraulic fractures called fracking.  Hydraulic fracturing requires about 2.5 to 5 million gallons of water per well.  Water management and its disposal are major costs for producers.One major challenge, however, of the membrane technology is the fouling (damage caused by contaminants) mitigation.  This has been recently studied by a group of researchers from University of Texas at Austin led by Professor Benny Freeman to address efficiency and reuse of water for fracking in shale gas plays.Researchers modified polydopamine coated UF (ultrafiltration) module by grafting polyethylene glycol brushes onto it.  The result is more hydrophilic surfaces which in turn improved cleaning efficiency relative to unmodified modules. The coating improves the membrane life, and can easily be applied to membrane surface by rinsing it through the recycling system.[References: D.J. Miller, X. Huang, H. Li, S. Kasemset, A. Lee, D. Agnihotri, T. Hayes, D.R. Paul, and B. Freeman; J. Membrane Sci., 437, pp. 265-275 (2013); Also see www.advancedhydro.net ]...
Flexible electronics can change the way we use electronic devices.  It is a term used for assembling electronic circuits by mounting electronic devices on a flexible plastic. A recent review article captured the advancement of CNT and graphene based flexible thin film transistors from material preparation, device fabrication to transistor performance control compared to traditional rigid silicon1. Silicon is used almost exclusively in electronic devices.Now Prof. Ali Javey led a team at the University of California, Berkley to develop a printing process to make nanotube transistors at room temperature with gravure printer.  The plastics used is polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The device exhibited excellent performance with mobility and on/off current ratio of up to ~9 cm2/ (V s) and 105 respectively.  Also, maximum bendability is observed.  The paper authors conclude that this high-throughput printing process serves as enabling nanomanufacturing scheme for range of large-area electronic applications based on nanotube networks2. References:1. D-M. Sun, C. Liu, W-C. Ren and H-M Cheng; Small, DOI: 10.1002/smll.2012031542. P.H. Lau, K. Takei, C. Wang, Y. Zu, J. Kim, Z. Yu, T. Takahashi, G. Cho, and Ali Javey; Nano Letters, 13 (8), pp. 3864-3869 (2013); DOI. 10.1021/nl401934a...
Drinking coffee from paper cups are as common as drinking water from plastics bottle. The issue however, is recycling of disposable cups. The disposable cups are made up of 90-95% of high strength paper (fibers) with a 5% thin coating of plastic (PE).To address the recycling issue, James Cropper Speciality Papers of UK have developed a process which involves softening the cup waste, and separating the plastic coating from the fiber.  After skimming off the plastic, remains are pulverised and recycled, leaving water and pulp behind.  According to the company news release, the high grade pulp is reused in luxury papers and packaging materials.An innovative approach to address a common problem.[Reference: www.jamescropper.com/news ]...
A search for an alternative to rigid silicon wafers gave birth to the area of flexible or bendable electronics. Research has been intense for the past few years in the area flexible electronics as it opens up multitude of new applications. Polymers play an important role to exciting field of flexible electronics.In a recent research report, a team of scientist led by Prof. Ali Javey of University of California, Berkeley (USA)  has shown for the first time user-interactive electronic skin or e-skin can conformally wrap irregular surfaces and spatially map and quantify various stimuli through a built-in active matrix OLED display.  Three electronic components namely thin film transistor (uniform carbon nanotube based), pressure sensor, and OLED arrays (red, green, and blue) are integrated over a plastic substrate.  Spin coated and cured polyimide on a silicon wafer is used as the flexible substrate.  Details are in the paper.This work essentially provides a technology platform where integration of several components (organic and inorganic) can be done at a system level on plastic substrates. According to the paper, this e-skin technology could find applications in interactive input/control devices, smart wallpapers, robotics, and medical/health monitoring devices.    [Ref: C. Wang, D. Hwang, Z. Yu, K. Takei, J. Park, T. Chen, B. Ma, and Ali Javey; Nature Materials, Published online July 21, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/NMAT3711]...
Recent buzz in the technology world is 3D printing.  Researchers to designers are creating new products everyday using 3D printing technology.  Even eBay has unveiled its services to those looking to make their own creations using 3D printing App.Since ages composites have played a crucial role in our society. Inspired by natural (biological) composites such as bone or nacreous abalone shell, researchers from MIT (USA) and Stratasys have developed composite materials that have fracture behaviour similar to bones.  Using computer model with soft and stiff polymers, the team has come up with a specific topological arrangements (hierarchical structures) of polymer phases to boost the mechanical behaviour in the composites.Interestingly, the team has been able to manufacture (thanks to 3D printing) a composite material that is more than 20 times larger than its strongest constituent.  The referenced paper showed that one can use computer model to design composite materials of their choice, tailor the fracture pattern and then use 3D printing technology to manufacture the composites.[Ref: L.S. Dimas, G.H. Bratzel, I. Eylon, and M.J. Buehler; Advanced Functional Materials, Published online June 17, 2013; DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201300215]...

fr_3  In this third article about thermoplastics Flame Retardant (FR) trends, we will discuss unmet flame retardant needs. Like any other needs, opportunities for new flame retardants should be validated against commercial interests and regulatory requirements before resources are spent on meeting them.  With that caveat in mind, the discussion below reflects what this author believes to be some of the key problems to be resolved in the near future.  The article describes thermoplastic uses that require either unusual processing conditions or applications that result in the need for significant changes in the performance of flame retardant materials. The resulting changes in design may greatly shake up the thermoplastic flame retardant material market.

Flame Retardants for Additive Manufacturing of Plastics

In the past year, a brand new technology has opened up new markets, novel applications, and the potential to bring plastic goods manufacture to a much wider range of companies. The technology causing this explosive change is known as additive manufacturing or 3D printing1

Additive manufacturing has the potential to make plastic custom-made parts, designs, and shapes readily available similar in many ways to how the printing press made the written word much more available. While 3D printing technology has been around for many years, it has really taken off in the past year as can be seen from the recent coverage in the Economist2,3,  and the recent announcement that Staples will print parts for the customers at their stores4.

So how does flame retardancy fit into all of this?   The answer can be found by examining the application of the printed parts. More specifically by examining the use of the printed parts and any fire risk associated with those applications.   If you are just printing a toy or a neat shape that will be used as a model, then any plastic compatible with the 3D printing process is acceptable.  But if you’re making a custom case for an electronic application or a custom part then there may have a fire risk associated with it.   If there is a chance of an electrical short circuit near a plastic part, flame retardancy may be required, and this need may not be met with common thermoplastics used for 3D printing (typically HIPS or ABS).
 
One approach that might be considered is printing with low flammability plastics (such as thermoplastic polyetherimide) but to date, there have been very few flame retardant materials designed and optimized for 3D printing. 

With the probable explosion of plastic use in additive manufacturing processes, this need is clearly an unmet one, and could become a problem if additive manufacturing starts producing parts and goods inserted into applications without fire safety needs.  Therefore, it makes sense that flame retardant thermoplastics optimized and tailored for 3D printing processes should be studied sooner rather than later.  Very likely this will be met via small custom formulations at first, but this could be a growth area for flame retardant plastics. 

Automotive Plastics

The fire safety standard that regulates plastics for automotive applications is Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard # 302 (FMVSS 302) This is a simple horizontal burn flame spread test.  that was created in the 1970s to simulate cigarette ignition and has not been significantly changed since its creation. At this time a typical car would have a maximum of 30 kg of plastic throughout the entire vehicle, all of which would have had to pass this simple test.  The use of plastic to mitigate corrosion/rust damage and improve fuel efficiency (light-weight materials – better miles per gallon performance) has resulted in an increase in the amount of plastics in today’s cars to 150 kg or more. This increased level of plastic can significant add to fire risk. A post-crash fire is just one accidental ignition situation in which the ignition source may well be more intense than that provided by a cigarette, and any plastic needs to be flame-retarded to a level that allows enough time to escape from the burning vehicle5.
 
Despite several calls to change the automotive fire standard over the past few years, there have been only minor changes.  So automotive plastic fire safety is an unmet need, but until a new fire safety standard is decided upon, it is hard to know what type of flame retardant performance will be required.  Today, most plastics with no additional flame retardant at all will pass the FVMSS 302 test.  The test of tomorrow will be based upon a fire risk scenario which is to be determined.  If we look at the fire losses for automobiles today, it appears that there may not be an immediate problem (see figures below), but the situation requires vigilance in case the fire losses begin to increase in the near future.

fr_figure_3_1   fr-figure_3-2

Figure 3-1:  Car loss fire statistics from NFPA6

This situation is further complicated because automobile fire risks are expected to change with new propulsion technology. The fire risk from a tank of gasoline igniting post-crash is very different than the fire risk associated with an electric car, in which electrical short circuit or battery explosion may be the issue.  The risk of battery explosion from lithium ion batteries, however, may be resolved if lithium-air batteries are commercialised in the coming decade. Until then, lithium ion batteries must be designed with care to avoid any possible fire hazards.

In January of 2013, a fire occurred on board a Boeing 787s equipped with lithium ion batteries.  While the exact causes have not been positively identified yet, extensive fire testing and safety testing was needed before the planes were allowed to fly again7.   Depending upon the size and energy density of the batteries, this fire risk scenario could show up in more often as this technology is used in more applications,.  Or, as these batters are used more widely, the engineering gets better at mitigating the fire risk introduced by this battery technology, Alternatively the risk could be removed completely if lithium-air replaces lithium-ion technology.
 
Cars powered with natural gas or hydrogen have more of an explosion hazard than fire hazard, which is different from fuel cells that introduce both flammable fuel and explosion risks.  All of this points to a significant unmet need for fire safe materials in automobiles. Until the fire risks can be identified and regulators can design relevant tests, it will be hard to see how this need will be met in the future.

Flame Retardants Compatible with Recycling & Waste-To-Energy Processes

The final need we will look at in this article is the development of flame retardant plastics compatible with recycling and waste-to-energy processes. 

In North America plastics are either reground, recycled or sent to landfill at the end of life of a product. In Europe, waste that cannot be recycled is incinerated with other municipal solid waste because of a the lack of landfill space. Incineration is a well-established process established in the 1970s. It was here that dioxins were identified from plastic waste and this led to the scrutiny of brominated diphenyl ethers that has dominated flame retardant/environmental science over the past four decades.  Many European countries now have clean incinerator technology that can capture and destroy all dioxins before they get into the environment, so the problem has been solved due to deselection of some flame retardants and adoption of new incineration technology.

Even in North America, putting plastic waste into landfill is not a sustainable solution. In some cases, the plastic is of more value if it is recycled rather than if it was burnt in an incinerator for possible energy capture.

This means that there is an unmet need for plastics which can be easily recycled in addition to having value in waste-to-energy processes such as incineration and gasification. For flame retardant thermoplastics, the unmet need is for flame retardant additives compatible with the recycling process and/or energy recovery methods. Some flame retardant products are more compatible with recycling than others.  Halogenated flame retardant chemistry has shown itself to work well with recycling (provided the additives do not bloom out over time) while some phosphate based flame retardants are not as suitable for recycling, owing to hydrolysis of the organophosphate over time9.   There has been little work to study how waste plastics (including those with flame retardants) behave in waste-to-energy processes10  so there is still much to study. There is truly a strong need to give more attention to sustainability of thermoplastics in the coming decade. This should be accomplished through lifecycle analysis in which flame retardancy is considered as part of the “cradle-to-grave” design. 

Conclusions:

Flame retardant material design, and indeed fire safety in general, is a field of science, that is advanced as the result of reaction to problems.  In general, flame retardants are developed in response to new or existing fire risks.  The needs listed in this article are a combination of proactive (flame retardants for additive manufacturing) and reactive (automotive, flame retardants designed for sustainable plastic use) and may not be important if a bigger fire risk is discovered in the near future.  Proactive flame retardancy of plastics is really only possible if one considers material flammability at the start of product design and extensive market and application research is carried out early in the project.  Even then, one cannot predict the future, which depends on how consumers may use or abuse products, nor how technology may be applied in ways that create unexpected fire risk scenarios.  So at best the scientist can look to literature reports, conference presentations, and trends seen by experts to help them plan for the future.  They should accept that even with this information, they will need to vigilant and react to fire events, as these will have an important impact on the actions that they will need to take.  It is hoped that this three part guide on flame retardants for plastics will be helpful to material scientists so they can be aware of the trends in flame retardant technology from a regulatory perspective (which drives flame retardant use), and from a technological perspective (what new technologies may solve today’s and tomorrow’s problems).

Again, readers are encouraged to read more on flame retardant technology to put the trends outlined in these articles into perspective for their needs, as there is no universal solution to flame retardancy of plastics.  What may affect one group of polymers in one market may have no effect on that same group of polymers in another market.  Still, the trends outlined in these articles do reflect current factors affecting flame retardant technology and should serve as a good starting point for the material scientist tasked with developing flame retardant materials. 

 

Dr. Morgan, the author of these three articles can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


References

1.  A summary of this technology and its capabilities can be found in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Additive_manufacturing (accessed 1 Apr, 2013).
2.  http://www.economist.com/blogs/schumpeter/2012/11/additive-manufacturing (accessed 1 Apr, 2013)
3.  http://www.economist.com/node/21552901 (accessed 1 Apr, 2013)
4.  http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/30/tech/innovation/staples-3-d-printing/index.html (accessed 12 Apr, 2013).
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