Although pre-pandemic, this team of scientists, separated by over 5,000 miles, collaborated over the past decade to create packaging solutions that are better for the planet and the customer experience.
Polyethylene resins are used for shipping beverage bottles as well as in milk and water containers, bags, sacks, and lids to extend the shelf life of goods in grocery stores. Although used packaging can become waste, creating sustainable solutions and driving a circular economy means this waste doesn’t end up along our roads and waterways. Reducing waste and closing the loop on plastic recycling has been a long-time goal at Dow, says Lori Kardos, Senior Research Scientist, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics.
Eloquently meeting this challenge is why Kardos and four other Dow scientists were recently recognized with ACS’s 2020 Award for Team Innovation. The team -- while working thousands of miles apart -- developed low density polyethylenes (LDPEs) with novel molecular structures providing films with improved processability and optics, and the advanced process developed for production. Their process and product insights were globally implemented in existing plants, and in Dow’s new large-scale LDPE plants leading to numerous innovations.
In addition to Kardos, the team included:
- Otto Berbee, retired Principal Research Scientist, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics
- Jaap den Doelder, Principal Research Scientist, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics
- Teresa Karjala, Principal Research Scientist, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics
- Joe Ortega, Senior Research Scientist, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics
“Our interest in our families, lives, and countries led to consistent and open communication, and our genuine enjoyment in working together helped us to develop a new class of high performing resins,” says Karjala.
AGILITYTM Performance LDPE Resins
For Dow, one priority is high efficiency and high optics packaging used for applications like food packaging including frozen meats and vegetables.
This blown film market includes products like AGILITYTM 1001 Performance LDPE, which is a resin that provides more cost-efficient packaging for producers and visually appealing packages for consumers. Other AGILITYTM Performance LDPEs were developed for large width films for greenhouse coverings. These very wide films require a significant amount of molecular strength or melt strength to be formed into large blown film bubbles that enable higher crop yields for vegetables and flowers.
Each expert brought value:
- Kardos’ expertise in application targets which helped design, develop, and validate AGILITY™ Performance LDPE Resins with the customers.
- Berbee’s focus on fundamentals such as reaction kinetics, phase equilibria and flow characteristics which allowed him to match the observed polymer molecular weight distributions and to predict polymer rheology and the performance of the LDPE in different applications.
- den Doelder’s fundamental models which optimize the performance of AGILITY™ Performance LDPE Resins and his partnerships with LDPE process experts to achieve a balance of processability and application performance for these resins.
- Karjala’s characterization techniques and models which predicted and confirmed new realms of LDPE resin design that offered a unique balance of properties.
- Ortega’s expertise in reactor operations and process modeling which offered insights into the relationship between resin properties and reactor conditions, and his deep level of reaction engineering expertise which enabled the team to produce a broad range of AGILITY™ Performance LDPE Resins.
Overcoming Bumps Along the Road
This team encountered many challenges along the way, including how to develop differentiated high pressure low density polyethylenes. “We combined our expertise in chemical reaction kinetics, materials science, structure/property relationships, polymer rheology, and polymer processing to deliver new products with exceptional performance and societal benefits,” says Karjala.
“This taught us to value the uniqueness of an existing technology and to utilize the advanced technology available today to improve both the product as well as the process used to develop the product.”
This major innovation in polyethylene polymerization was commercialized rapidly and already represents a significant portion of Dow’s global LDPE business. Moreover, this advance in LDPE production benefits society by using less energy and allowing less polyethylene to accomplish the same function in multiple consumer and industrial applications. In one year, the energy savings to produce resins results in 17,200,000 kW-hr, enough to power 10,800 U.S. homes and reducing 10,600 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
The commercial grade AGILITY™ EC 7000 was the first product to be introduced globally in 2013 into the extrusion coating & lamination (EC&L) market. This market is poised for continued growth as global brand owners choose aseptic cartons, snack packaging bags, and paper for both convenience and low cost to produce. AGILITY™ EC 7000 enables higher speeds and lighter resin coating weights for more economical and sustainable packaging.
The rheological behavior and excellent drawdown properties of AGILITY™ EC resins allow stable speed extrusion applying coating weights as low as 10 gsm at extrusion line speeds varying from 100 m/min to 500 m/min. The good processability supports high temperature extrusion which results in high throughputs with acceptable melt pressure and motor load, and a homogeneous melt curtain for uniform gauges and consistent surface properties.
With the exception of Berbee, who recently retired, the team still works together and is growing. They’ve also partnered with other Dow teams to expand development to products in blown film bubble stability, optics, extrusion coating and sustainability. “Ten years from now, I would like the entire value chain to consider plastic waste a valuable resource, and to use that resource in practice for a wide range of applications,” says den Doelder.
We’d like to congratulate each member of the team for their hard work, innovation, and collaboration.
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