Libmonster ID: UA-12111
Author(s) of the publication: Marina MALYGINA

by Marina MALYGINA, journalist

An innovative packing material plant has been commissioned at Aramil in the Urals, 15 kilometers away from its capital, the city of Yekaterinburg, to turn out upgraded wrappings modified by nanocomposites produced on the spot. The rated capacity of this plant (Uralplastik-N) is as much as 1,800 tons of flexfilm a month, or about 650 mln blocks with prepacked food or household chemicals. The new wrappers will oust conventional high-cost materials, such as polyamides, gas-impermeable multilayer films and a variety of PVC.

Today the flexfilm wrappers are a booming market, its mean annual growth rates topping 60 percent. Experts predict a 2-to-2.5-fold rate of increase yearly, and this is quite understandable since flexible polymers are remarkable for excellent protective characteristics keeping off lots of unwanted substances like oils, fats, chemicals, and so forth. They keep off microorganisms and UV radiation, too. They are both durable and safe.

Their production technologies are being upgraded all along. One way of doing that is to make use of various modifiers, nanocomposites among them, capable of increasing the storage life of products without deteriorating the characteristics of the stock material and at the same time minimizing the amount of waste disposed of. These technologies are part of the process. Such is the line steered by Uralplastik, a major "gambler" on Russia's polymer market.

In fact the Ural nanobusiness did not start from the word go. The forerunner of Uralplastik set up back in 1941 first handled plastics for the defense industry and with war's end, it switched to polyethylene (as of 1959)

стр. 52

Shorthand of nanocomposite-modified polymer wrapper.

and polyamide (as of 1981) films. Yet with the transition to a market-oriented economy in the 1990s its output shrank, the plant became heavily in debt and actually on the brink of a bankruptcy. But it had a good run of luck in those hard days by being purchased by Alexei Goncharov, an MBA graduate from the Ural Academy of Civil Administration. Upon his graduation in 1997, up until 2000, Goncharov was involved with private entrepreneurial activities by producing thermoplastic polyamide powders and doubling in variety of other jobs, such as trade, and industrial waste processing. But his shining hour came as Uralplastik Director General. Starting virtually from a shoe string, he drove his success home by turning an enterprise on its hind legs into an efficient, goahead company in the packaging business.

The young businessman had a great stake in a R&D department staffed by topnotch personnel exploring in the market situation and innovative products, thin-layer films among them. Uralplastik built up this country's largest production capacities (300 tons) for laminated products capable of putting out the basic kinds of flexy polymer films available on the home market. In addition, Uralplastik came up with original products of its own, like Polyplen™ and Triuplen™, for instance, used in vacuumizing technologies and in creating a modified gas medium.

In 2001 this enterprise launched into production a batch of innovative heat-insulation and packaging materials made of foamy polyethylene under the Porilex® trademark to become this country's first and only producer of this item. In yet another year the Uralplastik company was the first in Eastern Europe to develop and put to use the technology of foamy polypropylene. Today it is the exclusive holder of the Pentotherm® trademark. Its R&D experts are working in close cooperation with a number of research centers like the Research Institute of Building Physics and Fencing Constructions (under the auspices of the Russian Academy of Architecture), the Moscow Civil Engineering Institute, the Ural Research Institute for Architecture and Building, and also with the Scientific Center of Finland. In these past few years this joint effort has produced new heat-insulation materials quite on a par with international standards. Thus Uralplastik is now among Europe's largest producers of foamy polymers. Uralplastik saw a period of major overhauling and streamlining in 2004-2007 to boost its potential in mastering sophisticated polymer products.

"At first sight all films look alike," said Goncharov in his interview for the Russian Reporter magazine. "But they are different. Different in their permeability to gases and fats, different in their heat resistance and durability... Now take polyethylene we all know--it is full of holes to let in acids, gases, fats, chemicals... Why is that? Because one is out to stuff products with chemicals for a longer life--chemicals are cheaper than quality wrappings. A wrapper tells a lot: Are you buying chemistry? Or a living product?"

The competition is tough indeed. Goncharov has to deal with such world giants of the industry as Dupont (France), Basf (Germany) and Chevron Phillips of the United States. Simultaneously, he has forged business contacts with these market moguls. The Ural team had something new to offer, too: they developed a film with upgraded physical, mechanical and insulation characteristics prolonging the storage life of the stock product and making wrappings finer to cut the wastes. This also means economy on the raw material.

It was an ambitious project. Goncharov relied on his prior experience in thermoplastic adhesives, he relied on the Uralplastik know-how in the production of master-batch composites. And he consulted research institutes. He and his team incubated the idea of creating innovative polymer wrappers then and there. In fact, three fields of know-how came together: 1) production of modifiers proper under the trademark POLYELF® developed by Uralplastik in cooperation with the Institute of Chemistry of Solids and Mechanochemistry (Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Novosibirsk) and with the Company KWH Pipe Ltd-Extron (Finland) providing technical support; 2) the process chemistry (input of composites) and 3) making flexwrappings superior to domestic and some of the foreign-made analogs.

Uralplastik protective films are composed of 3 to 10 polymers and ceramic additives injected by the mechano-chemical method into the inner layers of high-molecular compounds. The joint activation of the polymer and nanocomponents results in the mincing and plastic

стр. 53

Nanocomposites forced into the film to keep nanoparticles from infiltrating prepacked products.

POLYELF®-modified wrappings hold obvious competitive advantages.

deformation of the initial product, with the ingredients of the mixture dispersed evenly at the monatomic level. So we obtain a low-porous nanodisperse structure prohibiting the infiltration of foreign particles.

The oxygen and vapor permeability of a film like this is close to zero, while its physicomechanical properties (tensile strength, resistance to impact and puncture) are up 40 to 60 percent. The thickness of the wrapper is 20-30 percent down.

The nanocomposite material is a real bonanza to honest food producers. The shelf life of foodstuffs (first and second courses, too) can keep on for as long as five years without preservatives. Compare this with the conventional foil wrapper, and the shelf life of 6 to 24 months! Since there are no metal inclusions, the food product could be heated with the wrapper on in microwave and other ovens to 170 °C. Yet another advantage of the innovative film: it is ecofriendly and handy for reprocessing and reuse.

Small wonder that the project won support in 2009 from the Rusnano corporation implementing government policies in the advancement of nanoindustry and co-investing into major economic and social programs. The overall bill of investments makes up 2.3 bln roubles. Rusnano has contributed 576 mln rubles to the Uralplastik authorized capital and provided loans. "This is big and hard-gotten money," Goncharov said in his press interview. "But there is no way out to keep small and medium businesses going and financing high-tech projects." "This is not money alone," he protested. "These are also resources to push the project through at the government level, product placement and lots of other things, too, like standartization, for instance... Had it not been for Rusnano, 1 would hardly been able to get through."

Uralplastik had invested its tangible and nonmaterial assets in know-how. It resorted to outsourcing as well by

стр. 54

getting as much as 850 mln rubles for leasing equipment from Germany, Italy and Finland. This enabled Goncharov and his people to reequip shops with most up-to-date technology. Uralplastik has installed Russia's only tenlayer extrusion* line for the output of high-protection film as well as this country's unique system of raw material dosage feeding.

The enterprise is to reach its rated capacity of as many as 24,000 tons of packages a year by the year 2013. Its share on the Russian market of flexy wrappings will increase tangibly (accounting for 15 percent today) to get it to venture abroad.

The inauguration of Uralplastik became a milestone event at the Fourth International Forum on Nanotech-nologies. The opening ceremony took place in October 2011 at the Moscow Expocenter. A television bridge was built between Moscow and Aramil (Sverdlovsk Region). Taking part were Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Rusnano Board President Anatoly Chubais and Uralplastik Director General Alexei Goncharov. Until recently our country, it was noted at the telecommunication session, purchased most of the flexible wrappers abroad. From now on Uralplastik will be able to fend for itself and replace imports by home products. The new polymer will also spur the home market to push ahead with high-tech technologies and modernize the packaging technologies.

* Extrusion, a technique for getting polymer materials by forcing the melt through a punched hole in the extrusion press.--Ed.


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Marina MALYGINA, POLYMER FILMS: BEST OUTLOOK // Kiev: Library of Ukraine (ELIBRARY.COM.UA). Updated: 01.10.2021. URL: https://elibrary.com.ua/m/articles/view/POLYMER-FILMS-BEST-OUTLOOK (date of access: 19.10.2021).

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