Earth Day 2024 sees planet vs plastics

Earth Day 2024 sees planet vs plastics

Feature articles |
By Nick Flaherty

The official theme for this year’s Earth Day is Planet vs. Plastics, and European electronics firms are highlighting the transition away from plastics in areas from fibre optical cabling, connectors to automotive.

Earth Day was first celebrated on April 22, 1970 in the US and went global in 1990. On Earth Day 2016, the landmark Paris Agreement was signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and 120 other countries. This signing satisfied a key requirement for the entry into force of the historic draft climate protection treaty adopted by consensus of the 195 nations present at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Phoenix Contact is focusing on a successive change towards greater sustainability in its products. Solutions are already available in the PCB terminal blocks, connectors, and electronics housings product categories that have significantly improved carbon footprints due to process optimizations and the use of sustainable materials.

With the MKDS 3 PCB terminal block, the RJ45 connector (version 6), and ICS 20 series electronics housings, items containing bio-based materials are already available. These items are made from thermoplastics based on the castor oil plant, which meet all technical and approval-related requirements just like conventionally produced plastics.

“This allows us to improve the carbon footprint of our products without compromising on product requirements,” says Timur Uzunlar, Manager for PCB terminal blocks at Phoenix Contact.

The impact of product manufacturing on the environment is made transparent to customers by determining the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF).

Similarly Huber+Suhner is moving to using recycled paper bags rather than plastic for its fibre optic cable assemblies.

The number of single-use plastic bags utilized will fall by 2.2 million per year, thanks to the initiative.. This project is a contribution to the company’s commitment to environmental responsibility through a 50 % reduction in packaging emissions for indoor fibre optic cable assemblies (calculated according to ISO 14040, based on supplier data).

“This initiative represents one small step in our company-wide journey to drive sustainability in our operations and products,” said Huber + Suhner Head of Global Sustainability Lana Ollier. “In an industry where the use of single-use plastic packaging remains commonplace, our initiative serves to highlight that HUBER+SUHNER not only understands our corporate responsibility, but our customers’ growing demand for more sustainable products.”

The indoor fibre optic cable assemblies will be packaged in 100 % recyclable, FSC-certified paper that includes the bags, cable ties and box tape. For customers, the paper packaging will be easier and faster to open, saving crucial time during installation.

As the paper covers and cable ties weigh less than the plastic previously used, less resources are consumed, and costs relating to transport and disposal will also be reduced.

The new packaging is also 100 % dust-free, mitigating the risk of potential contamination. This is important in data centres where indoor fibre optic cable assemblies are often deployed. If the packaging of these solutions generates dust, it can affect key components of the installation process as well as negatively affect operational performance.

“Our new environmentally friendly packaging has been designed with our customers in mind,” said Head of Product Management Vanesa Alias. “Switching to paper packaging reduces overall installation time as well as our customers’ waste volume and operational expenditure. This is one step of many sustainable initiatives in the pipeline, and we are excited to share our sustainability plans with our customers in due course.”

Last week, Swiss automotive materials developer Bcomp raised $40m to boost production of its bio-composites for aviation and aerospace. Originally developed to lighten and reinforce backcountry skis, Bcomp’s bio-based composites have been adapted and field-tested in motorsports to deliver performance benefits and positive sustainable impacts.

Bcomp’s patented range of flax-based reinforcement fabrics — powerRibs and ampliTex —can be used by OEMs as substitutes for standard materials like carbon, glass or plastic in its target markets. In specific applications the materials are lighter and stiffer than plastics. The materials also have advantages including high-vibration damping, and enhanced safety as the materials do not shatter upon impact.

Investors in Bcomp include Generali and Airbus Ventures as well as BMW i Ventures, Porsche Ventures and Volvo Cars Tech Fund.

“The success of this funding round speaks to the belief of investors in our high-performance decarbonisation solutions,” said Bcomp Chairman Christian Jaag. “This investment will expand our existing markets as well as propel our growth into exciting new sectors.”

“We continue to be excited by Bcomp’s growth and its launch into the global mobility market,” said Claas Carsten Kohl, Partner at Airbus Ventures. “Their innovative natural fibre composites are designed to help OEMs decarbonise their supply chains by providing powerful, pragmatic and economical lightweighting solutions to aid in boosting performance.”

The materials contribute significantly to decarbonisation by allowing, for automotive interiors, a reduction in plastic content by up to 70% and total weight savings of up to 50% compared with traditional materials and techniques.

“Not only are we facing more stringent regulations for carbon outputs, but consumers and manufacturers everywhere understand that we need to decarbonise to preserve our global environment,” said Bcomp CEO and Co-Founder Christian Fischer. “The quality and status of investors in our Series C clearly demonstrate their belief that our bio-based composites offer a viable path towards carbon neutrality without compromising on the rigorous performance requirements of our customers for their demanding applications.”

Materials supplier Syensqo has also joined the Semiconductor Climate Consortium (SCC) to address the use of plastics in semiconductor manufacturing. 

“Semiconductors play a vital role in the green transition, they are at the center of new technologies but manufacturing them is resource intensive” said Peter Browning, President of Syensqo Specialty Polymers. “Through this partnership, Syensqo will contribute to the sustainability roadmap of the whole value chain, advancing the industry and benefiting humanity.”

Syensqo provides materials solutions for almost every process step in advanced semiconductor manufacturing, from Polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), a semi-crystalline thermoplastic fluoropolymer used for ultra-pure water piping, Ethylene chlorotrifluoroethylene (ECTFE) for gas abatement and wet process tool structural parts, PFR FFKM fluoroelastomers and perfluoroelastomers for O-rings, and perfluoropolyether (PFPE) for heat transfer fluids.

Syensqo’s materials are designed to offer specialty polymer grades with a lower carbon footprint than their original counterparts by using bio-sourced, recycled and mass balance feedstocks, while offering the same level of performance. Syensqo aims to become carbon neutral across all operations by 2040, with 40% reductions in Scope 1 and 2 emissions and 23% reductions in Scope 3 emissions by 2030.




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