The Norwegian petrochemical industry delivers important raw materials for the plastics industry, and Norwegian suppliers for the international automotive industry utilize more and more plastic products to replace metals. Plastic products have come to occupy more and more space in modern automobiles; they now make up, on average, approximately 130 kilograms per car.
Norwegian scientists are currently researching the possibilities of strengthening the plastic in cars by utilizing nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is the branch of engineering that deals with things smaller than 100 nanometres (there are one million nanometres in one millimetre).
Plasto, a company located in Åndalsnes in northwestern Norway, approximately 400 kilometres from Oslo, has been a supplier to the automotive industry for many years.
"We need extreme precision to make steering shafts for cars using the injection moulding process," says Plasto's Market and Development Director Lars Stenerud.
Polypropylene, a thermoplastic material that softens when heated and hardens again when cooled, is the most popular plastic product used in automobile production, and it can be remelted and cooled time after time without any of its properties being lost. Thus, polypropylene can be recycled for use in other car parts or in entirely different products.
Stenerud works in a world where plastic products replace many metal products. "We are able to expand properties of the material without increasing the weight using nanotechnology. Therefore we can have more metal-like properties at a lower cost," he explains.
Strengthening Plastic with Nanoparticles
One of Norway's leading experts in the use of nanotechnology in plastic products is Erik Andreassen, a senior scientist at The Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research (SINTEF) in Trondheim, Scandinavia's largest independent research institute.
"When we are talking about nano particles in plastics, we are not speaking about single atoms or molecules but particles or fibres where the smallest dimension is in the nanometre area," Andreassen explains.
"Using nanotechnology in plastic products means that you strengthen the plastic with very small particles. Thus, the material can be stiffer, more anti-flammable and more resistant to scratches," he says.
An added benefit in the use of nanoparticles is that this technology can in effect strengthen the material without making it more brittle. "This can be a side effect using more conventional particles or fibres," says Andreassen. He also emphasizes that the industry continuously carries out extensive research to expand the areas where nanotechnology can be used in plastic car products.
Plastic Fuel Tanks
Another important plastic raw material is polyethylene. It is also quite popular in cars, but has different applications than polypropylene. TI Automotive, located in Kongsvinger on southeast Norway's Swedish border, is one of the global leaders in the development and manufacture of blow-moulded plastic fuel tanks.
"We use high-density polyethylene, which has properties you want in a fuel tank. It is easily formed and very elastic at low temperatures," says Steinar Holth, Sales and Project Manager for TI Automotive.
Safety is an important consideration when utilizing plastic fuel tanks instead of steel and aluminium tanks. The vast majority of small cars have plastic tanks. "A polyethylene fuel tank is fire resistant, and it will not explode. Because it is easily formed, we can also mount the tank in the most secure areas of the car," Holth says.
PVC for Multiple Applications
PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, is an additional vital raw material for the polymer processing or plastic industry, and Hydro Polymers is Norway's sole PVC producer. Together with Borealis, the only producer of polypropylene and polyethylene in Norway, they are co-owners in a big ethylene cracker plant at Rafnes in eastern Norway.
"PVC is used in rigid, long-life applications, but pure PVC, like most other polymers, cannot be used for much without first combining it with different functional additives, in order to enhance the properties of the products our customers are making," says Mikkel Heiberg Storm, Senior Manager for External Environmental Affairs at Hydro Polymers.
|Hydro Polymers' PVC gloves are of the highest quality. Textile linings provide comfort to the users, while the external PVC coating makes them strong and resistant.
Even if PVC is not a main plastic component in cars, it still has a vital function because most cables in cars are made of the material. "The cable system is the most expensive single part in a car, and it is not possible to replace individual cables because they are all interconnected," Heiberg Storm explains.
However, the main application for PVC is in building infrastructure. In the area of city infrastructure, PVC is used in cables, pipes and building materials. Recycled PVC also has a great variety of uses. In his office, Storm has a shirt converted from an industrial PVC pipe.
Nevertheless, PVC has had a negative connotation in the past because of environmental hazards. "The chemical industry cannot be proud of what we did in the past, but much has changed. We have joined an environmental programme called Vinyl 2010 supported by the European Commission," Heiberg Storm says. Vinyl 2010 encourages recycling of PVC, regulates the processes and supports the use of sustainable additives. For Hydro Polymers, the chemical industry is about social responsibility and sustainability. "We want our products to have a high social profile," says Heiberg Storm.
Three years ago, Hydro Polymers' employees supported a programme to eradicate the Guinea worm disease that had contaminated the public water system in war-stricken Sudan. After entering a human body, the parasite worm can grow up to one metre long, and can cause fatigue, fever and swelling. Using Hydro Polymer PVC filter pipes - small pipes with water filters in the mouthpiece - the Sudanese could thus avoid infection. Hydro Polymer employees donated 9 million pipes in 2001.
"The combined length of the pipes was equivalent to the distance from Oslo to Milan, and with the new refugee crisis in Darfur, Hydro Polymers employees have donated another 450,000 pipes to eradicate the threat posed by the Guinea worm," Heiberg Storm says.
Rough Waters for Medicine
FMC Biopolymer is a company taking advantage of Norway's rough and clean waters to harvest high-quality seaweed for use in the production of alginate for a wide variety of applications, spanning from industrial usage through food ingredients to pharmaceutical products.
"At these latitudes the waters are clear, clean and rough, resulting in a healthy, sustainable and renewable crop which grows just below the surface of the sea," says Jon Petter Helgesen, Alginate Marketing Specialist at FMC Biopolymer.
In the pharmaceutical area, alginate can be used in a variety of applications, including in the treatment of acid reflux, for wound-healing dressings, to give a controlled release profile of drugs from tablets, and it is also used for dental impressions.
Alginates occur naturally in seaweed, mainly in the form of calcium, magnesium and sodium salts, and alginates are often referred to as a hydrocolloid, a substance that dissolves in water to form viscous solutions and gels.
The ability to create strong gels has made alginates important for dental impressions and dental adhesive markets for decades, but alginates also have other uses.
"In the areas of wound care and dermatology, their ability to create films, foams and fibres offers wide ranges of potential uses," Helgesen says.
For people struggling with acid reflux, alginates could also be the solution. "With alginates, we can put a lid on the content of the stomach, creating a kind of foamy gel and thus preventing reflux. You can have a chewable tablet or an oral suspension to drink, and the alginate forms the foam in the stomach," Helgesen explains.
Alginate can be used to control the release of medicines from tablets. This may allow a person to take one tablet per day instead of three or four, because alginates create a viscous barrier that the active drugs have to diffuse slowly before being absorbed by the body.
However, the research on alginates is only in the starting phase, and Helgesen is eager to find new areas where alginates can be used in the pharmaceutical industry. "Applying our scientific expertise, we seek to develop the full potential of this material, working alongside our partners and customers to turn ideas into a practical, profitable reality," he says.
|An engineer from Borregaard operates a new pilot plant for fine chemicals.
Three years ago, GE Healthcare, previously known as Amersham Health, invested 36 million in a new production facility for X-ray contrast media in Lindesnes, a city in the southernmost area of Norway. Necessitated by a great demand for the company's contrast media products on the global market, another investment of 72 million was made in 2002 towards additional production facilities scheduled to be completed in 2005.
"Having developed the world's first non-ionic X-ray contrast media, we have built equally great expertise in the production processes since start-up at Lindesnes in 1974," says Finn Torgersen, Director of Communications for GE Healthcare in Oslo. "Our products and technology have made work easier for the doctors, and have given patients better and less painful treatment."
Borregaard is another leading company in Norway's pharmaceutical industry. With a strong focus on selected core technologies, Borregaard Synthesis has become a leading supplier of fine chemicals.
Mariann Karlsen is the Sales and Marketing Director for Borregaard Synthesis Pharma, which delivers building blocks for medicines to customers worldwide. "More than 600 cubic metres of reactor capacity guarantees flexibility," Karlsen says, underlining that the production of intermediates for contrast media is an important area for Borregaard. "We intend to maintain our position as a leading supplier of intermediates for non-ionic X-ray contrast media," she says.
In the area of fine chemicals, Borregaard provides intermediate products for the pharmaceutical industry worldwide. "More than 90% of our sales are exported. Our main customers are large companies working in the global market," Karlsen explains.
Fine chemicals from Borregaard include intermediates for pharmaceuticals to treat high blood pressure and reduce cholesterol, and anti-viral (e.g. anti-HIV) and anti-asthma medications.
Marine Coatings for the World
|A marine coating inspector for Jotun; correct preparation and application are important when applying sophisticated coatings to a ship.
Norway-based Jotun is a
major international producer of paints, varnish, marine coatings and powder coating.
"Jotun prides itself on always being at the technological forefront and ahead of environmental legislation," says Jotun CEO Knut Almestrand. "Continuous R&D programmes are therefore carried out in laboratories and test stations around the world."
A family-owned company since 1926, Jotun has expanded and it now has more than 35 factories in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, South Africa, the United States and Australia. Jotun takes advantage of Norway's traditions as a shipping nation.
"We are currently the second-largest supplier of marine coatings in the world and can offer a complete worldwide distribution network with factories in 21 countries," says Almestrand, emphasizing that Jotun has highly trained coating advisors to attend paint applications. "Our 250 coating advisors all around the world have a high level of education and experience to ensure that the customers get what they need."
Statistics show that as much as 95% of all coating failure is a result of poor surface preparation and application. Correct preparation and application are of the utmost importance when applying sophisticated coatings to a ship, Almestrand says.