A breath of fresh air: Eco-friendly, safer plastic foams
Alve-One® improving plastics’ sustainability profile
Foamed plastics are all around us, from applications in building and construction, footwear, automotive, packaging and more. Azodicarbonamide, or ADCA, is the reference in the chemical blowing agent market for making foamed thermoplastics. In recent years, however, Europe’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation has classified ADCA as a ‘Substance of Very High Concern.’ Fortunately, Solvay has developed Alve-One®, a sustainable foaming alternative, entirely inorganic-based formulations. The fact that it’s a 100% safe, performant and cost effective replacement for ADCA in plastic foam applications has led to it recently being awarded the Solar Impulse Efficient Solutions Label, as well as the Silver Award in the Innovation Category by Inovyn, demonstrating its appeal with the PVC industry.
A chemical product based on sodium bicarbonate, Alve-One® has a direct lineage to Solvay’s founding in 1863, when Ernest and Alfred Solvay invented a new way to produce this inorganic compound. Sodium bicarbonate can be used in various applications in food, including baking soda, in animal feed, pharmaceutical applications, in flue gas treatment, and in many other industrial and domestic applications. When used in food as baking soda, it releases gas and makes your cake fluffy. This is the same principle that a Solvay team applied to make Alve-One® for the plastics’ industry!
I expect that, as more people and companies look for alternatives to dangerous chemicals, the market will be increasingly eager to switch to a safer, sustainable solution like ours.
Agile foaming agent
One of the challenges to overcome in plastics’ foaming was the’ processing temperature, which can vary significantly in function of plastic resin being foamed (PVC, PP, PE, XLPO, EPDM, EVA, …) and process used (extrusion, calendering, injection molding, etc.). So, the Alve-One® team had to develop a family of chemical foaming agents designed to fit to such processing conditions and achieve similar foaming performance as ADCA. The resulting solution would have a positive impact at plants where plastic foams are produced, reducing workers’ exposure to a potentially unsafe chemical, as well as benefit the end user of such plastic foams.
Normally it takes five to ten years to go to market with a new solution, but this project started in 2017 and came to fruition in just two years. “We adopted an agile project development methodology, working closely with our customers right from the beginning of the product development,” says Pedro Pinto, Global Market Manager, Plastic Foaming Solutions. “The first customer validation took place at the end of 2019, and we are now in a transition phase from project to real business with some initial customers starting to use it.”
Solvay's Alve-One® foaming solutions can be tailored to the needs of thermoplastics and elastomers based foam producers. The automotive industry is particularly enthusiastic about this more sustainable alternative to ADCA as it enables them to apply the plastic foam, needed to shed vehicle weight in the quest for lower CO2 emissions, in a quality vehicle interior that doesn’t impact the passengers with unpleasant odors or harmful emissions (VOCs).
An award-winning solution for customers
The Alve-One® team prides itself on customer intimacy, seeking to better understand customer needs (product and market wise), production process and parameters. Rather than putting out standardized products on the market, they involve customers in the development of tailored solutions from the start to minimize the customers’ product change impact and maximize the benefits from doing so. This is one of the reasons why Alve-One® has been recognized as a Solar Impulse Efficient Solution, as well as being an award recipient at the Inovyn Awards 2019.
“I expect that, as more people and companies look for alternatives to dangerous chemicals, the market will be increasingly eager to switch to a safer, sustainable solution like ours,” says Pedro. “Sustainable solutions that bring a positive impact are good for people, the environment and for business.”