CO2nversations – Michael Kember

As Econic grows significantly and moves towards commercialisation, so too do our scientific innovations. These technological developments form part of the foundation, and the future, of our company, so it’s important that we protect them, in the same way that you would your house or car. This is where Dr Michael Kember, our Head of Research and Intellectual Property, and also a co-founder of Econic, steps in.

Mike determines the direction that our research team take in the development of new generations of catalysts and CO2-containing polymeric products, not only in terms of the fundamental scientific developments, but also in their protection as Econic’s intellectual property. This task requires Mike and the team to have a forensic understanding of the current IP landscape to see where and how Econic fits in, and the directions  future technology innovations can take. “It is important that we protect our catalyst technologies at all stages of development.” Mike states, “This protection is crucial in establishing the place of our unique catalyst systems’ foothold in the market. It also allows our customers the freedom to use these technologies in their own business processes, opening up the advantages of CO2-based polyols and materials.”

Econic’s IP portfolio is an ever-evolving, growing collection, currently consisting of more than 30 granted patents that span from polymerisation catalysts and the processes used in our technology, to enhanced polyurethane products made using CO2-containing polyols. This portfolio will only continue to diversify as we develop new generations of our catalyst technologies for use in the polyols for the polyurethane market, and, looking ahead, to wider plastics markets. The potential is far-reaching and we are only just scratching the surface.


Get in touch to find out how we can help turn waste CO2 into added value for your business.

Author, Anthea Blackburn

CO2nversations – Gemma Trott

Gemma is one of our most recent additions to the Econic team, having studied at Imperial College London and the University of Oxford and completing her PhD studies in 2018. Her graduate research focussed on the development of catalysts for copolymerisation processes and studying their mechanistic pathways. Being able to apply her analytical skills and to draw on her experience in reaction kinetics is now proving invaluable to her development and she has quickly become a great addition to our Process Development team.

The transition from academic to industrial research has provided Gemma with an interesting challenge, but the rewards that accompany working in a fast-paced and innovative young company far outstrip the challenges. “Working for a pioneering company like Econic with a creative and motivated team has not only enabled me to apply my skills to address a critical global problem, but also to see tangible results and process improvements quickly. Using state of the art equipment allows me to optimise our cutting-edge catalyst technology’s conditions and develop the best process for our customers. Every day is different with a new challenge to tackle, as we develop our technology to reach its full potential.”

As interest grows in the benefits that our catalyst technologies and waste CO2 can bring to the polyol industry, the Process Development team are instrumental to the optimisation of polyol synthesis and processing from laboratory to pilot scale. In addition to supporting our customers in the roll out of our catalyst technologies and processes, they are also key to the development of the next generations of processes that our catalyst technologies can enable at industrially relevant temperatures and pressures, as we realise the value and endless potential of waste CO2.


Get in touch to find out how we can help turn waste CO2 into added value for your business.

Author, Anthea Blackburn

Turning ‘bad’ plastics into a global opportunity

A blanket ban on all kinds of plastics is unfeasible and unworkable.

One need only look out their window to see first-hand evidence of the plastics pollution we currently face. It was reported in 2017 (Geyer, Sci. Adv.) that since 1950 around 6300 million metric tonnes of plastic waste have been created. Of this enormous amount of waste, a mere 9% has been recycled and 12% incinerated, with the remaining 79% ending up in landfills or oceans. Despite numerous advantages, many related to energy and resource efficiency, the detrimental effects of “single use” plastics are indisputable, and clearly things need to change with regards to consumer demand and use of these disposable materials.

Chemically speaking and as defined by IUPAC, a plastic is a “polymeric material that may contain other substances to improve performance or reduce costs”. We therefore question the broad classification of single use plastics being ‘bad’ and instead suggest that the issue we face is the bad use of plastics. Even those plastics deemed ‘bad’, like polypropylene and polyethylene, are ideal for the purposes, like disposable bottles, supermarket bags, and plastic packaging, with which they are now associated – it is their impact post use that causes controversy. These plastics, and many others, also have uses inherent to our daily lives with lifetimes of twenty or more years that we cannot discount. Polypropylene is used in thermal undergarments, as well as in reusable plastic containers. Polyethylene makes up many industrial machine components and artificial joints. These subsets of applications offer significant positive impact that more than offsets their current ‘bad’ reputation.


Overcoming the ‘bad use’ of plastics

The necessary shift in our approach to overcoming our bad use of plastics is the responsibility of all those in the plastics chain – the industry, the users, and the government. Luckily this change in mindset is already underway. Users are becoming more conscientious in their use of multiple-use alternatives to common plastic products and the ways in which they recycle waste. Increasing numbers of multinational companies, including Ikea, Coca Cola and McDonalds, have committed to ensuring that their plastics are both recyclable or compostable, and incorporate increasing proportions of recycled plastic. Several government bodies are introducing levies or bans on some of the most problematic plastic items, like bags, straws and microbeads, as well as funding of research towards recyclable alternatives. There is also significant work in many areas of the plastics industry itself to make plastics in more environmentally conscientious ways – whether in the precursors used, many of which are typically petrochemical in origin, in the efficiency of manufacture, or in their ability to be more easily recycled.


Polyurethane – A case study

Flexible foams add comfort to our lives in the form of memory foam mattresses.

Polyurethane (PU) is present in our daily lives in more ways than one might expect. This plastic, the third most widely used behind polyolefins and PVC, accounts for approximately 10% of all plastics produced, and is forecast to generate close to $80 billion worldwide by 2021, or 20 million tonnes annually (Ceskaa, 2017). Rigid foams make up the insulation in our walls, which facilitate a decrease in heat loss of ~60% when compared to other insulative materials (Kingspan, 2018). Flexible foams add comfort to our lives in the form of memory foam mattresses. Coatings protect our clothing, wooden floors and vehicles to extend their useful life. Adhesives stop our shoes from falling apart. Elastomers make up the wheels that allow us to open drawers and ride rollercoasters. Simply put, the stability and durability of PU in any one of its forms is essential in protecting us and our essential items from wear and tear and the elements.

 


Alternatives to PU

The production of PU is an energy and petrochemically intensive process – replacing this material with alternative biodegradable/natural/energetically less demanding materials is a natural initial response. Certainly, one could envisage replacing PU insulation (160 kg CO2 emitted / kgCO2e), with a less carbon intensive material like cork (-155 kgCO2e), glass fibre (8 kgCO2e), or mineral wool (38 kgCO2e) (superhomes.org.uk). In these examples, however, more than twice the material is required to prevent the same amount of heat loss as PU, so the performance of these long lifetime materials with regards to their stability, flexibility, lifetime, handling and fitness for purpose must also be evaluated. When considering natural alternatives to PU, we also mustn’t forget to factor in the environmental and societal effects of these materials, like import costs, land and water intensive agricultural demand that competes with food crops, the need for fertilisers and pesticides, or the waste profile associated with such materials. When considering each of these points, the greening of PU production becomes a superior approach to offsetting its overall carbon and environmental footprint.

The historical production of PU and its precursors was heavily dependent on volatile organic compounds and petrochemical-based feedstocks, both of which are being addressed by new and existing companies worldwide. One of the biggest contributors to the use of petrochemical-based feedstocks in PU manufacture is the polyols inherent to its chemical structure. These polymers are most commonly polyether in nature and are prepared from the catalysed polymerisation of ethylene or propylene oxide. These epoxides are industrially synthesised from the carbon intensive oxidation or hydrochlorination of the corresponding alkene, which is collected as a by-product of oil refinement and which has an enormous carbon footprint. The potential replacement of some or all of this epoxide feedstock is clearly an effective approach to greening polyol production.


Plant-based polyols

Increasing numbers of natural polyols based on plant oils or compounds are being developed industrially. Oil-based polyols can be prepared from a range of natural oils, such as castor, cashew, peanut or soy, with castor oil being one of the few natural products that does not require chemical modification. Alternatively, bio-based succinic acid polyols can be prepared from the fermentation of sugar. These polyols, in particular bio-based polyols, do offer advantages to downstream PU products over their wholly petrochemical-based counterparts in terms of increased abrasion resistance, tensile strength, thermal properties and hardness. As in the case of natural alternatives to PU however, these polyols also run into agricultural shortcomings, especially in competing with food crops for land use, as well as dependence on variable and uncontrollable factors like weather and seasons. As such, when processing and purifying the polyols, it can be difficult to produce constant quantities for downstream use. Furthermore, natural oil-based polyols require additional processing to remove odour, and typically must be blended with traditional petrochemical-based polyols to achieve comparable properties.


Using CO2 as a feedstock

An abundance of atmospheric CO2 presents another environmental issue that we currently face. It would therefore offer a win-win situation if petrochemical-based polyol feedstocks could utilise an otherwise waste material – for every tonne of epoxide replaced by CO2, three tonnes of CO2 would be avoided or utilised (Bardow, Green Chem.). Assuming 50% market adoption of such technologies, these numbers correspond to savings of ten million tonnes of CO2 a year, the equivalent to taking six million cars off the road or planting twelve million trees, that is, significant savings. Such polyols, known as polyethercarbonates, are the focus of a small, but increasing, number of companies. These new technologies differ in the amounts of CO2 that can be incorporated into polyols, but with a theoretical maximum of 50 mol%, significant environmental advantages are clearly possible. We at Econic have taken this approach one step further: our catalyst technologies allow for the bespoke incorporation of CO2 into polyols at industrially relevant temperatures and pressures, thereby allowing polyol producers to tailor their products for their downstream PU needs. What’s more is that the incorporation of CO2 also offers significant product advantages – the resultant rigid foams have improved flame retardance, whilst coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers show increases in their chemical, temperature and hydrolytic resistances. Economically, waste CO2 is expected to be at least an order of magnitude cheaper than its petrochemical-based counterparts. Irrefutable advantages are achievable in all aspects of the production of these green polyols, benefits which are in turn passed through to the PU industry and their consumers.


Moving towards responsible plastics

Existing materials need to be made ‘greener’.

Frankly speaking, we cannot, and should not, remove plastics from our lives. The positive energy and application impacts that they impart simply cannot be reproduced by natural alternatives. Manufacturers and users alike can have a huge influence on reducing the ‘bad’ impact of plastics and shifting the balance towards ‘good’. We must urgently address how efficiently we use each plastic and move away from a ‘use and dispose’ mentality. Furthermore, plastics should be manufactured so as to not further perturb the state of our environment, but also to utilise the abundance of harmful waste products we have already created. As in the case of increasingly green PU, green and recyclable alternatives to many of the other plastics we rely on are being developed worldwide. The issue we now face is the wait for these new technologies to be adopted on a large scale by the industry, so that the plastics products so essential to our lives move towards being responsible materials.


To learn more about the endless potential that Econic’s catalyst technology can bring to greener plastics and waste CO2, please contact:
Richard French, Business Development Director on +44 1625 238 645


This blog was first posted by Plastic News Europe on 17/09/2018.

Author, Anthea Blackburn

UK’s first carbon capture utilisation demonstration plant opens its doors

The opening event was held on March 1st at The Heath. In attendance was John Lewis, Managing Director of SOG, pictured here with Dr Rowena Sellens, CEO of Econic.

Clean-tech pioneer Econic Technologies has opened a first-of-its-kind plant in the UK to demonstrate to customers how its innovative catalyst technologies can convert CO2 into polyols, which can then be used to make more sustainable polyurethanes for use in products such as automobiles, bedding and footwear.

The new plant is located in Runcorn, at The Heath, one of the UK’s leading independently-owned business and technical parks. It comprises all elements of the production process, integrated from reaction through to final product treatment, in a bespoke industrial unit. Opening its new plant at The Heath demonstrates Econic Technologies’ long term commitment to the North West following its relocation from London to Cheshire in 2017, with the company adding 12 new jobs across its two Cheshire locations since the move.

The new demonstration plant is an exciting step forward in Econic Technologies’ journey to help manufacturers unlock the positive potential of waste CO2.  Until now, the creation of polyols from CO2 has been performed in plants at high-pressures and temperatures. Thanks to its new tunable catalyst technology, Econic Technologies’ plant will be able to produce samples of CO2-based polyols at lower, industrially relevant temperatures and pressures.

The launch of the plant comes just weeks after Econic announced that they had closed a major founding round which saw climate investment group OGCI Ventures coming on board alongside existing investors. As well as private capital investment, the demonstration plant has also received substantial European support through a Horizon 2020 SME Award. Rulande Rutgers, Head of Process and Product Engineering at Econic Technologies explains: “Securing such highly competitive public funding has been an important vote of confidence for Econic Technologies, and is allowing the company to accelerate development pace. Using some of this funding for the new demonstration plant is one way it is helping turn the potential of our catalysts into reality.”

Rowena Sellens, CEO of Econic Technologies, commented: “The demonstration plant is essential to helping our pioneering catalyst technologies develop as they move out of the lab and into the factory. As a company, we want to help drive the market adoption of polyols and our new plant provides an opportunity for us to encourage significant uptake in the industry. The interest from polyol manufacturers and downstream polyol users in the plant has been overwhelming already. We are extremely confident that once we start demonstrating what our technology can do, we will help catalyse a transformation in attitude when it comes to the positive potential of carbon.”

Econic Technologies’ catalysts enable manufacturers to reuse waste CO2, by allowing it to be incorporated as a feedstock, which offers not only a sustainable benefit by reducing the reliance on fossil fuels but also an economical benefit by enhancing margins. The company hopes that by 2027, 30% of all polyol production will take place using Econic’s catalyst technologies, which could save 3.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year – the equivalent to taking two million cars off the road.


For further information, please contact:
Alex Kane, Farrer Kane: +44 (0) 20 7415 7154 | alex@farrerkane.com
Max Jewell, Farrer Kane: +44 (0) 20 7415 7154 | maxjewell@farrerkane.com

For more information on Econic or to inquire about our catalyst technologies, please contact:
Richard French, Business Development Director Econic Technologies | +44 1625 238 645

 

Author, Anthea Blackburn

Econic Technologies raises £7m for pioneering technology to help fight climate change

British catalyst technology company, Econic Technologies, announces the successful completion of its latest round of fundraising. The total amount raised is £7m with first-time investment from OGCI Climate Investments, alongside additional funds from existing shareholders: IP Group plc and Woodford Investment Management. The funding will be used to help further develop Econic’s pioneering catalyst technologies, which unlock the positive potential of waste CO2 by allowing it to be incorporated as a feedstock thereby enhancing margins and reducing the reliance on fossil fuels. The team hopes that by 2027, 30% of all polyol production will take place using Econic’s catalyst technologies, meaning that potentially 3.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions could be saved each year – the equivalent to taking some two million cars off the road.

In addition to the funds from Econic’s existing shareholders, this latest investment round brings backing from OGCI Climate Investments, the one billion-dollar investment fund created by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), a voluntary initiative led by CEOs of ten global oil and gas companies. The OGCI Climate Investments fund invests in promising technologies and business models that have the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that are commercially viable and scalable. Working with OGCI Climate Investments means that Econic Technologies will have access to an impressive network of oil and gas experts, opening the door to future opportunities for the global market to benefit from the positive potential of its catalyst technologies.

Due to the interest expressed by a number of strategic investors, the company has the facility to issue a number of additional shares within a limited time window following this close.

Rowena Sellens, CEO of Econic Technologies, commented: “This latest round of funding will help drive Econic Technologies’ continuing growth, and enable us to transform more waste CO2 into powerful economic and product performance advantages while reducing environmental impact.

“As the catalysts move from our labs to our customer’s factory floor, the funding will be vital to ensure that manufacturers around the world are able to benefit from our pioneering technologies. We are delighted that our investors are prepared to give us the flexibility to bring one or two strategic investors on board and benefit from the additional expertise they can offer at this exciting stage.”

Kelsey Lynn Skinner at IP Group Plc commented: “Econic continues to make strong progress with its transformational catalyst technologies and we are pleased to continue to play a pivotal role in helping the company to realise this potential.”

Pratima Rangarajan, CEO of OGCI Climate Investments commented: “We believe that CO2 utilisation in products is an important pathway to capture carbon, resulting in a more sustainable future. Econic Technologies’ catalyst is a step in the right direction and we look forward to supporting them as they grow.”


For further information, please contact:
Alex Kane, Farrer Kane: +44 (0) 20 7415 7154 | alex@farrerkane.com
Max Jewell, Farrer Kane: +44 (0) 20 7415 7154 | maxjewell@farrerkane.com

For more information on Econic or to inquire about our catalyst technologies, please contact:
Richard French, Business Development Director Econic Technologies | +44 1625 238 645

Author, Anthea Blackburn

Econic Technologies is Named in the 2017 Global Cleantech 100 Ones to Watch List

Alderley Park, Cheshire, UK – November 7, 2017: Econic Technologies, a chemical company that supplies pioneering catalyst systems capable of incorporating bespoke amounts of waste carbon dioxide into polymers for use in the plastics industry, today announced it was named in the 2017 Global Cleantech 100 Ones to Watch list, produced by Cleantech Group (CTG).

The GCT100 Ones to Watch list seeks to highlight a group of up-and-coming companies that are catching the eye of leading investors and corporates in the market. The companies listed made the top 250 in this year’s Global Cleantech 100 program and carry pockets of strong support among the GCT100’s Expert Panel, albeit they did not have quite enough market support (yet!) to make the 9th edition of the Global Cleantech 100 list itself (which will be published on January 22, 2018). As such, these companies represent this year’s Ones to Watch.

“The Global Cleantech 100 program is our annual in-depth research exercise to identify the innovation companies leading players in the market are most excited by right now,” said CTG’s CEO, Richard Youngman. “By the nature of the list, the Ones to Watch truly represent the next cadre of exciting disruptive companies.”

“We are delighted with this recognition of the potential of our catalyst systems to benefit not only the environment with regards to the utilisation and reduction of waste carbon dioxide, but also the economy in terms of the value we can add to our customers’, and their customers’, existing products,” said Rowena Sellens, Econic’s CEO.

This year, a record number of nominations for the annual Global Cleantech 100 list were received: 12,300 distinct companies from 61 countries. These companies were weighted and scored to create a short list of 312 companies, with these nominees reviewed by the 86 members of Cleantech Group’s Expert Panel. The Ones to Watch list, a sister list to the annual Global Cleantech 100 list, is created from the top 250 of the shortlist. To qualify for either list, companies must be independent, for-profit cleantech companies that are not listed on any major stock exchange.

The complete list of the Global Cleantech 100 Ones to Watch list was revealed on November 7, 2017. See the full list at https://i3connect.com/gct100/watch-list

The complete list of Global Cleantech expert panel members is available at https://i3connect.com/gct100/panelist

About Cleantech Group
Founded in 2002, the mission of Cleantech Group (CTG) is to accelerate sustainable innovation. Our subscriptions, events and programs are all designed to help corporates, investors, and all players in the innovation ecosystem discover and connect with the key companies, trends, and people in the market. Our coverage is global, spans the entire clean technology theme and is relevant to the future of all industries. The company is headquartered in San Francisco, with a growing international presence in London.
Our parent company, Enovation Partners, one of Consulting Magazine‘s 2017 Seven Small Jewels, is based in Chicago (learn more at www.enovationpartners.com).

MEDIA CONTACT:
Heather Matheson
Cleantech Group
Tel: +1 (415) 233-9714
Email: heather.matheson@cleantech.com

ECONIC CONTACT:
Richard French, Business Development Director
Tel: +44 (0) 1625 238645
Email: R.French@econic-technologies.com

Author, Anthea Blackburn

Econic Technologies signs joint development agreement (JDA) with SCG Chemicals to develop high molecular weight polymers

Econic Technologies is excited to announce the signing of a JDA to partner with SCG Chemicals, one of Thailand’s largest integrated petrochemical companies and a key industrial producer in the Asia-Pacific region. Econic Technologies will work together with SCG Chemicals to develop processes to manufacture novel CO2-based high molecular weight polymers using Econic’s catalyst technologies and to assess application opportunities. SCG Chemicals’ independent subsidiary and polymer research and development firm, Norner, will also play a key role in the development programme.

The joint venture is one of a number of global partnerships Econic Technologies is engaging in as it works towards realising its goal to create value from waste CO2 across the globe. By working with polymer manufacturers and suppliers to help them make their products using carbon dioxide, Econic Technologies creates the potential to transform the sustainability of products in a variety of industries from packaging to construction. Its partnership with SCG Chemicals opens another route to take its catalyst system developments into mainstream use, with a focus on high molecular weight CO2-based polymers as a new family of thermoplastics.

The joint venture will expand Econic Technologies’ global reach as it continues to grow its ever-developing catalyst portfolio. Rowena Sellens, CEO Econic Technologies, commented: “This opportunity to work with a partner that sees the potential beyond CO2 polyols is a fantastic step forward in expanding the breadth of the applications possible, as well as showcasing the relevance of our catalyst technologies as we move towards commercialisation on a global scale.”

For SCG Chemicals, the opportunity will enable the company to develop new, more sustainable technologies. Dr Suracha Udomsak, Technology Business, Group Head, SCG Chemicals, commented: “This is an exciting milestone for us, allowing SCG Chemicals to collaborate with experts to create innovation that could offer a better living standard to society. This collaboration is an example of technological development that will create impact on both higher material performance and sustainability aspects.”

For further information, please contact:
Alex Kane, Farrer Kane: +44 (0) 20 7415 7154 / alex@farrerkane.com
Max Jewell, Farrer Kane: +44 (0) 20 7415 7154 / maxjewell@farrerkane.com

Author, Anthea Blackburn

Enhancing Healthcare using Polyurethane

Just as we can find polyurethane in our everyday lives, so too can we find it throughout many of the medical procedures we probably don’t care to think too much about. Many of these applications in the medical realm are a result of the attractive properties of polyurethane, which can be attributed to the chemical structure of this polymer.

In the synthesis of polyurethane, a flexible polyol that makes up the polyurethane backbone, reacts with an isocyanate to generate the cross-linked polymer and the ‘soft’ segment of the material, as well as a low molecular weight hydroxyl- or amine-based chain extender that also reacts with the isocyanate to form, due to the additional presence of intramolecular hydrogen-bonding interactions, the ‘hard’ segment of the resultant polyurethane. The generation of this block co-polymer, whereby the soft and hard segments alternate, leads to a unique material that is elastomeric, as well as tough and tear resistant in nature.

These properties of polyurethane lead to its advantages in medical devices over other types of polymers, such as polyvinyl chloride or polyethylene, as the material is able to withstand continual bending and rubbing during its use, without becoming weakened or breaking.

Read on to learn more about some of the medical applications and recent advancements that rely on the benefits of polyurethane.


Biomedical Polyurethane

If we consider the use of polyurethane in medical applications, one of the first things that surely comes to mind is its compatibility with the body. Luckily, much work has been carried out in the fields of chemistry, engineering, and medicine to ensure that the materials used today have sufficient structural, chemical, and mechanical integrities, so we can rest assured that implants will maintain their shapes and desired functions, and will not be degraded by biological attack while in the body.

Historically, polyurethane can be commonly found in a range of medical tubings, for example in catheters and feeding tubes, as well as in surgical gloves and other medical garments, and in bedding. More recently, however, a more diverse range of applications are being realised.

One such application is a polyurethane-based heart valve reported by South African scientists, which offers the advantage, through 3D printing of a titanium frame and dip moulding to introduce the polyurethane valve, of being constructed specifically for each patient. This particular valve offers an exciting alternative treatment to the traditionally utilised biological valve, which degenerates fairly quickly in younger patients, or mechanical valve, which requires life-long anti-coagulation therapy – this development is thus ideal for younger patients in developing countries, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, where rheumatic heart disease is unfortunately prevalent. Animal and further mechanical testing of the valve is currently underway, so keep an eye out for future progress in this field!

Image courtesy of Central University of Technology, Free State

Thermoplastic Polyurethane

Patient comfort is an integral part of healthcare and treatment, and one particular polyurethane, thermoplastic polyurethane, offers a significant advantage over other plastics due to its ability to respond to heat due to the presence of transient cross-links between hard segments in the copolymer. The subsequent flexibility of the polyurethane imparted by this property allows for the material to act more as a rubber than a plastic, and adapt to movement in the patient’s body, which makes it much less cumbersome and annoying for the patient.

As such, these thermoplastic polyurethanes have a range of applications in a variety of tubings, oxygen masks, and wound dressings, as well as in a range of intravenous and intra-aortic balloon catheters, all of which are subject to much motion, and which patients appreciate for their flexibility.


Polyurethane Foam

When we think of polyurethane foams, their incorporation into medical devices may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Their rigid structure as a result of extensive cross-linking between the hard and soft segments of the co-polymer, is a bonus when support and inflexibility are required, however.

One such example of a rigid support comes in the form of a suture alternative, known as the Zip, which uses an adjustable ladder-type structure to close evenly an incision in places of stitches or staples. The polyurethane the Zip is made of facilitates the dynamic nature and conformability of the device, so the precision is also protected from the forces of patient movement, which aids in healing and recovery, and, perhaps most importantly for patients, also minimises scarring and track marks left by more traditional methods, so also offers cosmetic benefits.

Video courtesy of ZipLine Medical

For those who have suffered the ill-fate of broken bones and wearing a cast, the hassles of showering, the perpetual and unreachable itch, and the general discomfort can be appreciated. Luckily for any of our future breaks, a new company, Cast21, hailing from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has developed a means of addressing these issues. The cast, while still maintaining the rigidity required to repair a broken bone, is also hollow (so no itching!) and waterproof (showerproof!). To achieve this remarkable feat, the cast is based around a flexible network of silicon tubes into which the two components of polyurethane are injected, react, harden, and form a rigid foam exoskeleton that distributes force evenly across the limb in need of repair. Simple!

Image courtesy of Cast21

Imagine if all of this was possible, whilst also enabling the capture and storage of pesky waste CO2… check out how Econic can make this possible, or contact us for more information.

Author, econicuser

The Night Before (a Polyurethane) Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hope that St Nicholas soon would be there.

christmas-chocolate-santa-sleigh-mould

Many of us will be halfway through our advent calendars by now. Don’t worry though, this isn’t where we tell you the chocolate is made from polyurethane. Rather, the moulds used to shape and store the chocolates are made from polycarbonate. Typically, low molecular weight polycarbonate is used which is durable and flexible enough to pass its shape onto the chocolate, but also allow you to free the chocolate from its casing to enjoy each day.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be St Nick. More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, and he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen! To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall! Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

Santa+reindeerThe impending end of our advent calendars can then mean only one thing – Santa’s visit. With all of the families that Santa visits on Christmas Eve, he surely relies heavily on polyurethane to aid him in the vast distances and climes he will travel through. To reduce friction and make the journey a little easier on his reindeer, his sleigh will most likely be coated in polyurethane. To keep him warm, both at the North Pole and while he’s flying through the night skies, he probably wears boots made from polyurethane incorporated into the shoe’s upper. The hard thermoplastic polyurethane in the soles of his boots are also probably really useful when he needs to clamber over snowy and slippery roofs. And just to be safe, we suggest that he takes an umbrella coated in waterproofing polyurethane in case it’s raining out!

Not all of us, especially those in the Southern Hemisphere, are lucky enough to celebrate a white Christmas. With the help of chemistry though, we can guarantee snow for all this Christmas, not necessarily falling from the sky however. As a more permanent solution, porous polyurethane foam is often coated on artificial Christmas trees to mimic a snow-clad forest tree. Alternatively, a more hands-on snow can be made at home using sodium polyacrylate, a very absorbent polymer, which, when mixed with water, expands in size by many orders of magnitude, and, due to the endothermic nature of water uptake, becomes cold.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, and filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk. And laying his finger aside of his nose, and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

christmas-tree-presents

There is nothing more magical than waking up to a Christmas tree twinkling with lights, sparkling with baubles, and festively surrounded by gifts, a sight that would be lacking, if not for various forms of polyurethane and polycarbonate. Artificial Christmas trees, in combination with polyvinyl chloride or polyethylene fir leaves, comprise a polyurethane foam-based trunk. The decorations and baubles that adorn our trees are typically coated with polyurethane for longevity and shininess, while the lights that trim the tree are encased in a polycarbonate shell. Polyurethane is also prevalent in the gifts under the tree – from the flexible polyurethane foam that protects our packaged gifts, to the rigid polyurethane plastic that makes up our gifts.

At the end of the festivities, rest assured that you can relax in the comfort of your polyurethane foam couch cushions and memory foam mattress, while listening to Christmas songs or watching films on polycarbonate CDs and DVDs. (Polymeric) perfection.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, and away they all flew like the down of a thistle. But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!
– Clement Clarke Moore

Happy holidays from the Econic team!

Author, econicuser

Polymers & Plastics in the Paralympics

The 2016 Rio Paralympic Games are now in full swing, with medals being won, records being broken, and a viewers from around the world being inspired. Plastics and polymers have had a huge influence upon these games, which may come as a surprise to you (even the medal ribbons are 50% recycled plastic bottles this year!). Technological and scientific advances are imperative to the continued growth and expansion of the paralympics, and all athletic endeavours. Carry on reading to find out some more about the technology on show at this year’s Games.


Wheelchairs 

Let’s kick off, or more aptly, tip off, with wheelchair basketball. Although the majority of chairs used currently are made from welded titanium, there has been a significant increase in the belief that carbon fibre-reinforced polymers, typically polyepoxide-based, in fact offer the attributes desirable for a more successful wheelchair, typically leading to the chair being lightweight and manoeuvrable, but also able to withstand impact. Carbon fibre-reinforced polymers are more commonly used in running blades, a mainstay of the modern paralympic games, as they offer the best combination of strength and weight. Although this technology is not the norm within more chair-based sports, there are athletes who will be using these chairs, so it’s down to the action on the court for a preview of what may be more widespread in the future for wheelchair basketball.

There have also been developments on the chairs used throughout the games off the basketball court, whereby  British athletes have been able to achieve a 20% increase in acceleration thanks to work between UK Sport and BAE Systems (more commonly associated with the aerospace industry). This increase in speed has been made possible for Team GB’s racing chairs through the development of a new, lighter composite-based wheel, that is also three times more rigid than previous wheels. This rigidity allows for a reduction in a force known as ‘toe-in’, and prevents the wheel from bending inwards as the athletes propel themselves forwards, thereby reducing the amount of friction between the athlete and the track. As we know, a margin of 20% is a big deal in athletic competition, so this development will have a huge impact on athletes’ hunt for gold.

It isn’t only Team GB who have put time into developing their wheelchairs, the US team have teamed up with BMW to create ‘the world’s fastest wheelchair’. The chair does not resemble a traditional chair, with its low, long, and triangular body produced from carbon fibre by BMW’s California-based design firm Designworks. Each chair is also personalised to fit each individual athlete to allow their performance to be optimised even further.These developments will lead to some intense competition this year, which may not only be between the athletes, but also between the companies behind the chairs too.

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Image courtesy of BMW

Canoeing & Kayaking 

Taking a dip in the waters of Brazil may conjure up images of golden beaches and lapping shore lines, and although that may be true, the athletes at the Paralympics will be competing in somewhat less relaxing circumstances. Events such as the paracanoe and rowing are in full effect, and the technology involved is proving to hold an influence on the speed, agility and success of the athletes. The shape, style and flexibility of canoes and kayaks is heavily influenced by innovations in plastics technology, with these materials able to offer the development of more lightweight apparatus without sacrifice of their rigidity.

Canoe events were introduced into the Paralympics for the first time this year, with six medal events added. It is no surprise that racing canoes are no longer made of wood or bark, but instead most are now constructed from the polymer Kevlar, which allows for an increase in speed and agility due to the lightweight nature of the material.

As well as the canoes and kayaks themselves, plastics are incorporated into the events at the Lagoa Stadium in Rio, with high-density polyurethane blocks used to form obstacles. These objects take the form of artificial rocks and are bolted together to the bottom of the water channel in order to constrict the water flow with the aim of replicating a natural whitewater feature.

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Image courtesy of Rio 2016 Paralympic Games

Swimming

The use of polyurethane swimsuits has caused much controversy over the years at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, with the use of whole-body suits being banned since 2010 and the the 2012 London Games. Of course, athletes have long sourced any advantages in competition, such as removing every follicle of hair from their bodies, but the banned suits are an example of technology advancement gone too far (in the eyes of the Olympic governing bodies, that is). The suits allowed for swimmers to become far more buoyant as a result of the extremely thin material trapping small pockets of air. Maybe there is room for technological development in this event, but even without these suits, paralympians have already been posting some impressive times in the pool this year.


3D-Printed Prostheses

The world’s first 3D-printed prosthesis will be on show at this year’s Games, a milestone in prosthetic technology. German cyclist Denise Schindler, with the help of software company Autodesk,  will be using the fully 3D-printed polycarbonate-based prosthesis as she competes for gold in Rio. A significant advantage of using such technology is the pace at which the limb can be produced using a 3D printer, rather than by hand as standard athletic prosthetic limbs are generally produced. This increased speed of production allows for any necessary changes to be made to the design with little disruption, meaning the prosthesis can evolve at a greater pace during the production process. Additionally, as the prosthesis is prepared from an electronic blueprint obtained from 3D scanning of the athlete, the joint prepared can provide a much better fit than can be achieved through the useful method of plaster casting.  The team have been printing and testing a range of printed prostheses based on polycarbonate split into two parts, and the development will continue right until the start of the Games, with the aim to have the most aerodynamic version possible.

The hope is that this technology will open the door for these new types of prosthetic limbs to become available not only to elite athletes, but also to be more readily accessible to a much larger range of people who have suffered the loss of a limb. Schindler herself has said that a huge goal of hers is to ‘open up the sports world for the average amputated person’. Developments such as this could not only help to make the dreams of those inspired to compete at the Paralympics a closer reality, but also to assist those using prostheses in their everyday lives.

Video courtesy of Dezeen

 

 

Author, econicuser