ASC Supplement 2013: Sustainability can equal success

26 April 2013 12:53  [Source: ICB]

By driving sustainability concepts all through its business, including product development, Henkel is making more with less and offering customers more environmentally friendly adhesives for packaging

Leading adhesives producer Henkel has made sustainability an integral part of its business activities. It is implementing a strategy for achieving more with less, and intends to triple its resource efficiency by 2030.

Copyright: RexFeatures

That goal will be achieved through extensive involvement of employees and partners throughout the value chain, and affect all aspects of company operations, including product development, says Ram Ramalingam, technical director in the US adhesives business of the Germany-based company.

One of the programmes is the development of more sustainable polyurethane (PU) adhesives for food packing applications.

"The key to being a successful and sustainable company is to incorporate sustainability concepts into all levels of the firm's business goals," says Ramalingam. "Our approach at Henkel is to set goals for achieving more with less, such as reducing energy, water and materials consumption, which enables us to reduce waste generation and lower our carbon footprint." These goals are translated throughout the company and down to the specific product level.

As in any product development, the needs of the customer must be considered. "Customers want sustainable materials but are not willing to pay a premium. They also expect the same or better performance as conventional products, and aren't willing to sacrifice any performance attributes," Ramalingam says.

With adhesives for packaging, that means strength, appearance, and retention of packaging integrity. For food packaging, food safety is a key concern also.

Henkel has taken on the challenge of developing sustainable PU-based adhesives for food packaging. In this case, the first major step is to formulate new adhesives that are solvent-free to significantly reduce the volatile organic compound (VOC) content.

The market had a choice between waterborne and 100% solids systems, and elected predominantly to focus on the latter, in part because waterborne adhesives still require heat for the drying step, which translates to energy consumption.

"We have asked ourselves what our customers would want in a solvent-free alternative to existing solvent-borne polyurethane adhesives. Number one is to ensure that any new formulations meet requirements for food packaging safety, which largely relates to potential migration of components from the adhesive into the food," explains Ramalingam.

There is a viscosity issue to address; when the solvent is removed, the viscosity increases, and some modification of the formulation is necessary to reduce the viscosity to where it is suitable for application of the adhesive.

"That is the challenge. Selection of the right ingredients is critical for maintaining performance - in terms of processability, runnability, appearance and durability, but also in terms of meeting food safety requirements, and of course, doing so at an acceptable cost level," Ramalingam says.

While the majority of PU adhesives were solvent-based in the past, up to 50% of these applications are now using solvent-free PU systems. This change, he notes, translates to the avoidance of the use of millions of pounds of ethyl acetate each year and sizeable energy savings, since no drying is required.

Henkel has also recently made strides in improving the sustainability of other types of adhesives. A new multifunctional Henkel packaging adhesive that bonds paper and provides heat insulation, reduces by 34% the resources needed to produce the EarthSleeve, a hot-cup sleeve developed in conjunction with LBP Manufacturing that is used by Starbucks.

Henkel's Loctite UF3810 high-performance, easy-to-use underfill product, which provides drop and shock protection for the consumer electronics, aircraft and automotive industries, cures at a lower temperature, thus consuming less energy.

It has also joined forces with bio-based material technology company DaniMer Scientific to develop hotmelt adhesives that use bio-based raw materials for the consumer packaging market.

Author: Cynthia Challener

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