Canadian Plastics

Green Materials Take the Driver’s Seat

While many companies have wait-and-see approach with emerging green technologies, the folks at Canadian General-Tower Ltd. (CGT) are quite literally taking the front seat when it comes to innovation.

March 1, 2009   By Umair Abdul, Assistant Editor



While many companies have wait-and-see approach with emerging green technologies, the folks at Canadian General-Tower Ltd. (CGT) are quite literally taking the front seat when it comes to innovation.

The company is perhaps best known for its production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) seat coverstock for the automotive market. CGT has been making this seating material for over 30 years, and the company is now using bio-based plasticizers to manufacture the materials, with partial funding from a $2.5 million grant provided to CGT and two other plastics processors by the Ontario BioAuto Council.

The VEHREO product line is much like the company’s vinyl seating offerings, with one notable exception: the material uses plasticizers made with plant oils from soybeans and castor beans, instead of crude oil.

The company started off several months ago with a literature search from its suppliers. Prior to its search, CGT had done some work with soybean-based plasticizers, but castor beans were new to the company. Once they identified and sourced the right renewable materials, CGT started conducting all the bench top lab work at its facility.

“Automotive is very demanding because of the long-term aging requirements and the performance requirements,” explained Patrick Diebel, vice president of advanced technology at the company. “That was the initial screening step, making sure it was not going to evaporate out over time, and wouldn’t cause problems with fogging and tackiness.”

After nearly six months of lab work, CGT’s researchers scaled up to a production trial, testing the new material against OEM requirements and using material made with crude oil-based plasticizers as a performance benchmark. With each progressive trial, the firm has replaced more of the crude oil plasticizer with the bio-based alternative.

“We have been successful in passing several of these OEM specifications,” added Diebel. “We started with a partial replacement, and then the next one was about 50 per cent replacement, and this month, we are running a trial with a 100 per cent replacement.”

Additionally, the company applies a polyester knit textile to the backing of its seating systems so that it can be sewn in. For the environmentally friendly VEHREO product line, CGT worked with its supplier to introduce reclaimed PET plastic water and soft drink bottles into the fabric.

“They are collecting these bottles and cleaning them, and putting them back into a yarn, and that is then knit into the backing fabric,” said Diebel, adding that 55 per cent of the VEHREO line’s backing fabric is now reclaimed plastic. “It’s taken us three iterations, but now that we have this third iteration, it’s meeting or exceeding the requirements of the OEM.”

The VEHREO product line came out of the Advanced Technology group at CGT, which was created a year and a half ago. The defined, concentrated group has been working on brainstorming new and innovative products that are eco-friendly and technologically advanced.

“We can’t just be a commodity player,” explained Diebel. “The idea was for CGT to pursue new products and new markets that are more difficult from a technological point of view, and that take more R&D and brainpower.”

CGT continues to invest in the group, and the group continues to develop a range of applications. Most recently, CGT produced a new breathable product by putting micropores and a protein finish on synthetics, combining the durability of synthetic materials with the comfort of leather.

“It might seemingly be counterintuitive [to be investing in R&D] for the time, but it’s really exactly the time you want to do it, because it speaks to regeneration and renewal,” said Jan Chaplin, chief executive officer and president of CGT.

The company is also working on projects with researchers at the University of Toronto, including a new top finish additive that makes products feel more dry and luxurious, and the development of a whole new polymer using fungus and starch.

Canadian General-Tower Limited (Cambridge, Ont.);

www.cgtower.com

519-623-1630

Ontario BioAuto Council (Guelph, Ont.);

www.bioautocouncil.com

519-827-1118


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