Final Report: Greener Plastics with High Heat Tolerance for Additive Manufacturing

EPA Contract Number: 68HE0D18C0013
Title: Greener Plastics with High Heat Tolerance for Additive Manufacturing
Investigators: DiCarmine, Paul
Small Business: Intelligent Optical Systems Inc.
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Phase: I
Project Period: October 1, 2018 through March 31, 2019
Project Amount: $99,960
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2018) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Manufacturing

Description:

Advances in materials and automation are rapidly reshaping the American manufacturing economy. These advances must be embraced to sustain a strong manufacturing sector in the United States. Additive manufacturing is possibly the fastest growing example of this trend, growing at an astonishing compound annual growth rate of 25.7%. The plastic materials market for additive manufacturing, valued at $700M in 2020, is projected to grow even faster, up to 34.6% to 2023 ($1.8B). Traditional plastics used in additive manufacturing are produced from toxic chemicals and are not degradable. Existing greener alternatives are not heat tolerant and deform at <60°C. Despite this severe limitation, greener plastics account for 32% of material used. This market trend indicates a strong demand for a greener, heat tolerant plastic. The result of our work is a greener thermoplastic product. It is a degradable plastic, produced from biobased feedstock, tolerant to 92°C, comparable to the best fossil-based plastics used in additive manufacturing. Technical feasibility, including production and product demonstration, was accomplished in Phase I. We anticipate our first sales in Phase II. After demonstrating market success and revenue as a greener, heat tolerant material for additive manufacturing, we anticipate finding applications in other products that require greener, non-toxic, and/or degradable heat tolerant plastics.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

IOS produced a high molecular weight biothermoplastic, and demonstrated a glass transition temperature of 92°C (44°C above the primary green thermoplastic competitor, poly(lactic acid)), which is comparable to traditional fossil-biobased, non-degradable thermoplastics. The plastic was produced from a natural product derivative commercially available on the ton scale. We successfully scaled the synthesis and incorporated the greener plastic with high heat tolerance into 3D printing filament. With this filament, we performed a successful 3D printing demonstration of our Greener Plastics with High Heat Tolerance for Additive Manufacturing, thereby achieving all of the project objectives and proving technical feasibility.

Conclusions:

All objectives were met during this intensive Phase I work, and the technical feasibility of the proposed greener plastic with high heat tolerance for additive manufacturing has been demonstrated. This material is a greener, biodegradable plastic, produced from renewable biobased non-toxic feedstock. It is heat tolerant to 92°C, comparable to the best traditional fossil-based plastics.

IOS performed a thorough market analysis and analysis of competing technologies, and we are convinced that there is ample potential for the success of this product. The additive manufacturing materials market is growing at an astonishing rate, with a CAGR of over 30%, and the market for bioplastics has an estimated growth of 25%. Our product straddles both of these markets. There is no commercially available thermoplastic material that is produced from biobased feedstock, is biodegradable, and has a comparable temperature tolerance to the material developed in this project.

We believe that our technology fits directly within the EPA's core mission of protecting human health and the environment. Additionally, we understand that the goal of the SBIR program is to turn ideas that fit within this framework into successful, revenue generating businesses. IOS estimates cumulative sales revenues of $98M and cumulative licensing revenues of $9M during the first 10 years of commercialization.

Commercialization:

In the Phase II work, we plan to scale production and produce demonstrator quantities of the material, which will enable us to engage distributors and decision makers in the 3D printing materials market. It is important to note that a relatively small investment will be needed to transition from prototype manufacturing to commercial manufacturing, since polymer and filament production will leverage existing production systems and protocols for commercial polymer synthesis and filament extrusion. We anticipate achievement of our first sales before the end of the Phase II contract. Since our core competence is scientific innovation, our commercialization strategy is to perform full R&D and validation work, invest in the demonstrator production, and ultimately license this technology to established manufacturers.

Commercial viability of the product under development was demonstrated by thoroughly evaluating major potentially substitutable products and technologies. There is no commercial thermoplastic material that is biodegradable and produced from biobased feedstock, with comparable temperature tolerance to the material developed in this project.

The additive manufacturing (AM) market presents a unique opportunity for this novel material. The market is relatively new, fast growing, unbound by legacy technology, and eager for innovation. Importantly, customers routinely pay 10x the amount for AM plastic feedstock over the cost of the raw material, which leaves room for margin on novel products that have not yet reached maximum efficiencies of scale. Since the expiration of the original patents in 2008, the AM market has exploded, with an astonishing compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.7%projected between 2017 and 2023. [1 ] Our product is an AM plastic material designed for fused deposition modeling (FDM); a CAGR of 34.6% from 2017 to 2020 was estimated for the AM plastics segment due to the increased rate of growth of the desktop printing market relative to the overall AM market, valuing the total addressable market at $822.7 million by 2020. [2 ] If we capture just 1% of this market with our novel material within five years of a successful Phase II project, it will be a successful venture for IOS. Furthermore, establishing our greener heat tolerant plastic in the AM market will facilitate entry into larger markets.

The thermoplastic being developed here is not limited to use in 3D printers; it has the potential to be commercialized as a bulk bioplastic material for conventional manufacturing. The global plastics market is expected to reach $634B by 2020. [3 ] Specifically, demand for bioplastics is rising, and with more sophisticated biopolymers, applications, and products emerging, the market is continuously growing. According to the latest market data compiled by European Bioplastics in cooperation with the nova-Institute, global bioplastics production capacity is set to increase from ~2.05 million tons in 2017 to ~2.44 million tons in 2022, and from 2015 to 2020 biodegradable plastics will see an estimated annual growth rate of 25%. A biothermoplastic with a glass transition temperature 44°C higher than that of PLA, one of the most widely applied biothermoplastics, will capture a significant share of these rapidly growing markets.

There are some tantalizing prospects for the material developed through this work in commercial applications outside of additive manufacturing. As we work to establish the material as a filament for 3D printing, we will seek to identify other markets for the material. High value single-use items are one prospective product class under investigation; specifically, customized disposable or absorbable medical devices. Further in the future we see the material as an alternative to single-use plastic hot food containers.

 

References:

[ 1 ] "3D Printing Market by Offering, Process, Application, Vertical, and Geography - Global Forecast to 2023," marketsandmarkets.com, accessed 02/22/2019.

[ 2 ] "3D Printing Plastic Market by Type, by Form, by Application, by End-User Industry, and by Region - Global Forecasts to 2020," marketsandmarkets.com, accessed 02/22/2019

[ 3 ] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/plastics-market-worth-65438-billion-by-2020-grand-view-research-inc-511720541.html, accessed 1/18/19./