Stroll through every hall at NPE2009 and you will find innovative products and technologies that show just how critical plastics are to finding solutions to environmental issues and making the world more sustainable. Resource conservation, renewable resources, recycling, degradability, solid waste source reduction, energy efficiency, elimination of pollutants, shrinking carbon footprints—virtually every visitor at NPE2009 now has a vital interest in one or more of these goals. Many exhibitors offer at least one technology to help achieve them, as do a wide range of conference presenters. If there is a central theme for NPE2009, it’s sustainability.
For example, the surge in growth of bioplastics — materials that are biodegradable and derived from corn, castor beans, soybeans, potatoes, tapioca, and other renewable resources – are evident throughout the show floor. Thirty-eight exhibitors offer bioplastics-related technology, from resins to specially designed additives and machinery to processed goods, and there are well over 50 conference presentations on the subject.
Plastics’ role in energy efficiency and generating new sources of energy are also well-represented at NPE2009. Fuel savings are the advantage cited for new materials and processing methods that yield lightweight or more compact products that reduce gasoline consumption. In addition, alternate energy sources increasingly require plastics as essential materials of design, and a number of NPE2009 exhibitors are spotlighting the role of their products in solar energy, lithium-ion batteries for electric-drive cars, and wind energy systems.
Exhibitors are also doing their part by recycling scrap generated at NPE as part of the NPE2009 Recycling Program. The huge bins filled with materials waiting to be recycled at the NPE2009 Recycling Center – right in the middle of the show floor in South Hall — are a testament to the effort. From 46 acres of carpet to 100,000 attendee badge holders and more, SPI has collaborated with RTi, Freeman, Maine Plastics, EcoEducators and other partners to expand the NPE2009 recycling program beyond the scrap from the show floor.
Right now a number of plastics news media are featuring a story about a housing for a photovoltaic module molded from DuPont™ Rynite® PET engineering plastic. Now photovoltaic is another way of saying “solar power” and DuPont is another way of saying “NPE2009 exhibitor.” And DuPont will not be alone in featuring plastics applications in solar and other alternative energy systems at the show or in the concurrent conferences.
Alternative energy systems, as well as energy conservation, will also be one of the four sectors of the multi-exhibitor Emerging Technologies Pavilion being organized by SPI for the new West Hall of McCormick Place. Not surprisingly, the agency that will anchor the energy quadrant at the pavilion will be the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Solar energy is just one of a wide range of alternative technologies that falls within this agency’s jurisdiction.
The plastics connection to solar energy systems will be demonstrated in manifold ways by suppliers of raw materials and processing equipment. DuPont even operates a website called “Photovoltaic Solutions” that promotes a range of the company’s products with solar cell applications, from molding materials, to sheet and film, to encapsulants.
Nor are photovoltaic systems restricted to panels and modules on rooftops or in solar cell farms. Small cells have long powered devices such as calculators, and new low-cost systems based on PET or polycarbonate films promise to serve as permanent, reliable power sources for laptops and PDAs.
Photovoltaic cells often have many layers, each with a special function, and some of these layers are actually coatings onto film, sheet, glass, or metal. Another NPE2009 exhibitor, Extrusion Dies Industries, LLC (EDI), builds slot die or “patch coating” systems that apply UV blockers, protective hard coats, antireflective coatings, and other materials onto these substrates.
Then there’s the other solar system—solar thermal, which transforms the heat from the sun into energy for space heating and hot water. NPE2009 exhibitor Sabic Innovative Plastics recently announced use of its Noryl® resin for “the first high-temperature polymer collector,” replacing copper and aluminum.