“Today, opportunities exist in diverse market sectors such as automotive, electronics, building materials, appliances, sports equipment, furniture and many others,” says Campanella. At the COMPOSITES 2012 event, she demonstrated how plant oil-based resins such as “MAESO” (maleinated acrylated epoxidized soybean oil) are used in a variety of composites applications.
For example, Dixie Chemical recently collaborated with the University of Delaware and Crey Bioresins to develop commercial-scale bio-resins derived from plant oil. The resins are similar to ones made from polyesters. “We want to offer product options that reduce environmental and health impacts for thermosets, and we want to support our customers in their efforts to adapt to environmental and safety regulations,” Campanella says.
Mainly, though, bio-resin use is driven by the building and construction industry. The LEED program motivates builders, architects, designers and others to search out lower-impact methods of constructing and operating buildings, Moffit says. “Composites are well positioned to meet the needs of green builders because of the inherent characteristics of durability, low weight, design flexibility and low thermal conductivity.”
Moffit adds that companies embracing bio-based resins tend to have market drivers that support this choice. He cites John Deere’s use of them to strengthen its connection with farmers, and engineered quartz surface producer Cosentino’s use of the resins to bolster its relationship with clients who value recycled content.
An AOC customer, Alaglas Swimming Pools, touts its ability to assure customers that their pools were made from environmentally friendly technology, thanks to the company’s use of AOC’s EcoTek H460-EKAG bio-based resin. Some 28 percent of the resin is derived from biologically renewable content (reclaimed polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, that would otherwise be destined for a landfill, and from reclaimed glycols that would require diversion into a chemical waste stream). Alaglas pools made with the resin are durable enough to be sold with the same 50-year structural warranty that the company offers to owners of pools made with traditional resin.
Cost Is Main Hurdle
Proponents of bio-based resins say the challenge isn’t in the makeup of bio-based materials —Henry Ford once took an axe to his soy-composite automobile trunk lid to demonstrate its strength — but rather in their mark-up. The main hurdle has been to cost-effectively convert corn and soybean products into the monomers required to create a resin.