The Ricoh Group has been one of the leading Japanese companies in terms of corporate responsibility and sustainability.
The company is committed to making a zero-carbon, circular economy and to develop new environment-conscious materials.
Ricoh has already replaced fossil-based with bio-based plastics in the production of multi-function printers and to adopt imaging products and printers components made from PLA sourced from corn starch and sugar cane.
Building on this experience and on their extensive research, Ricoh has developed a new technology enabling the production of the world’s first and most performant foamed PLA sheets.
Its name is PLAiR, which is a combination of Plant and Air.
- Traditional and Conventional methods
Although PLA is an environmentally-friendly material, it’s almost impossible to produce high expansion rated PLA foam sheets with traditional and conventional foaming methods.
Traditional and conventional foaming methods were developed for fossil based plastics. It was thus indispensable to blend PLA with fossil-based resins to produce PLA foam sheets.
- Bubble size
One of the biggest challenges is controlling the size and consistency of the bubbles. Foaming PLA will usually result in too large and uneven bubbles.
PLA foam sheets are usually not performant and will break and deform under heat easily.
The PLA Foam Revolution
Ricoh’s intention was to market a plant-based solution able to overcome these technical challenges.
- New Technology
Ricoh has come up with a new revolutionary technology called “CO2 Fine Foam Technology” and a new PLA brand called “PLAiR”.
It’s one of the most important recent technology revolution in the PLA sector. This advanced technology will disrupt and fast forward the production of PLA foam.
How does it work?
`Supercriticality is attained when CO2 is pressurized at a high temperature. In this state the gas is as dense as liquid, making the CO2 particles violently collide with each other and produce natural convection. As PLA and fillers are added, they are evenly kneaded using convection. The evenly distributed fillers work as foaming nuclei resulting in even, minute bubbles which form a structure providing superior strength and heat stability.
- Carbon Footprint and Compostability
Ricoh’s revolutionary technology is almost 100 % plant based and thus enables the carbon-neutrality and compostability of PLAiR.
- Bubbles Consistency
PLAiR technology produces uniform bubbles only tens of microns in diameter. Through the kneading process, fillers (foam nucleating agents) are evenly distributed in the PLA and the foaming takes place with the fillers as nuclei.
Ricoh PLAiR is the PLA foam with an adjustable foam expansion rate.
The strongest and unique selling propositions of PLAiR are: heat resistance, flexibility and strength.
PLAiR can be made into very thin sheets while its flexibility and strength are maintained thanks to the bubble uniformity. The foaming rate (expansion) can also produce thicker sheets with higher insulation factor.
Ricoh’s foamed PLA sheets are much more flexible and stronger than conventional PLA and are also easier to use for material processors.
Also, the surface area is increased by foaming, and the biodegradation time can be expected to be shortened.
Not to forget that PLAiR is also a cost-efficient solution.
We can say that Ricoh successfully produced the most performant PLA foam.
PLAiR sheets have a wide range of applications, including cushioning, packaging, packing material (including various container types) and foodware.
Ricoh is looking to collaborate with partners to enable mass production solution across multiple applications.
For more information regarding PLAiR, you can contact Ricoh directly. Contact Here