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Sustainability (Renewability) Issues

There are three aspects to this: does the use of fillers generally improve the sustainability of composites? Can fillers be made from renewable raw materials? and Can recycling improve sustainability?

Effect of Particulate Fillers on Composite Sustainability

It can be argued that while not renewable, common minerals are available in abundance and thus depletion is not an immediate concern. Sustainability to date has therefore focussed mainly on limiting the environmental impact of their extraction. This includes reducing the water and power used, responsibly treating any waste, and most importantly remediation of sites once extraction is over. The main filler companies are, by and large, very responsible about this today.

In addition, it is also argued that replacing part of the oil-based polymers in a composite by minerals significantly reduces the environmental impact of the product. There are several studies to support this contention. As an example, thermoplastics compounder Heritage Plastics Inc. has published a detailed study into the processing and environmental benefits of using calcium carbonate as a filler in high-density polyethylene film ( tainability.htm).

Heritage claims that independent research confirms that use of the filler in HDPE film reduces petrochemical and energy usage during the manufacturing process and minimizes the carbon footprint and greenhouse gas impact of finished plastic products. The life cycle analysis study was carried out by Boustead Consulting & Associates LLC. The study compared the energy consumption and environmental impacts of using 100% pure polyethylene resin compared to displacing 20% of the PE resin with its Heritage’s HM10 additive, in both prefilm plastic pellet production and in film production scenarios. Boustead based its calculations on a database built over 25 years, and the LCA considered both the manufacturing process of Heritage’s additive and its use in HDPE film production.

Some of the test findings, assuming the displacement of about 20% of the petrochemical-based components in film with the HM10 additive, are given below:

  • • 15-20% overall energy savings
  • • 16-20% reductions in the use of crude oil
  • • 15-19% reductions in the use of natural gas
  • • 12-17% reductions in the use of coal
  • • 12-16% reductions in the use of electricity
  • • 13-17% reductions of greenhouse gasses
  • • 15-20% reductions of oxides of sulfur
  • • 13-17% reductions of oxides of nitrogen
  • • 11-15% reductions of particulates

Heritage said that producing one ton of its HM10 concentrate uses 72% less energy than producing one ton of HDPE. (Note that because of the difference in specific gravity, more than one ton of concentrate is needed to replace one ton of HDPE, but there is still a significant saving.) It further claims that replacing 20% of the HDPE in film with the additive reduces the amount of electrical energy needed to convert the film by 23%.

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