The SPIC (Sustainable Polymer Innovation Cluster) in Emmen focuses on sustainable polymers. These could be fossil plastics that are being recycled as well as biopolymers. SPIC does not stand alone. The cluster has connections, for instance, with SUPACC (local SME companies), NHL Stenden University, University of Groningen and Green PAC. The initiative is partly supported by the Province of Drenthe, the Municipality of Emmen and the NOM (Investment and Development Company for the North of the Netherlands).
Gerard Nijhoving, Managing Director at Senbis Polymer Innovations, sees the SPIC primarily as a bundling of hardware – laboratory equipment, machines – available for the SPIC partners in Emmen. Senbis, Morssinkhof and Cumapol took the initiative to set up the SPIC, but are also seeking to work with other parties. ‘The great is thing is that we cover a large part of the entire R&D process in thermoplastics (e.g. PET, PBS, PEF, PA, PHA, PP, PE, PLA). This focus is naturally a consequence of the expertise built up by the three partners. Senbis operates on a laboratory scale and has several machines for upscaling. Morssinkhof and Cumapol are mainly active on an industrial scale, for instance, in the area of polymerisation, post-condensation and the spinning of polyester yarns. The partners mainly use this equipment for their own purposes. With the SPIC, we want to make these R&D facilities also available to third parties.’
3D printing technology
The area of sustainable (bio)polymers is quite extensive. As mentioned before, SPIC focuses on thermoplastics. Within this group, the focus is on three processes: polycondensation, spinning of multifilaments and 3D printing. ‘3D printing is a revolutionary technology that holds great promise for industrial applications. Large companies such as BASF also see the potential, and that is why this multinational has taken over the Emmen company of Innofil3D. However, further research is required to improve the quality of 3D printed plastics. Currently these plastics do not quite meet the standard as far as their material properties are concerned. Within the SPIC we can contribute to improving the quality.’
The spinning of multifilaments (i.e. industrial yarns) is a price-driven market. Morssinkhof is active in the area of rPet for these purposes. Gerard: ‘It is not easy to adopt more sustainable polymers for these applications because of the bulk prices that this sector is accustomed to. However, if within the SPIC, we can add extra functionalities – in addition to a more sustainable profile – these will come into the picture. In this case I am primarily referring to the added value of degradability and/or compostability and good performances such as high mechanical properties. Fortunately, we also see market parties that are prepared to pay slightly more for a sustainable solution. Research into both the technical and economic feasibility of new yarns fits perfectly with the objectives of the cluster.’
Polycondensation – the step from monomers to polymers – is the third step in the process which the SPIC focuses on. Gerard: ‘In this respect, we are still lacking a vital component required for upscaling, i.e. a pilot plant to produce volumes of 50 to 100 kilogrammes per day. Such quantities are necessary to carry out application tests. We therefore desperately need such a facility in order to bring these polymers to the market. The same also applies for the other route: from polymers to monomers. This will enable us to do research into chemical recycling.’ A pilot plant is anything but cheap. This is why the SPIC wants to gauge whether there is sufficient interest in the plastics industry. ‘There is interest, from the local business community but also from multinationals. Talks are currently taking place. If parties want to contact us, we are only too pleased to talk with them.’
Scource: Agro & Chemie