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Conveying of Bulk Solids Expert Handling of Demanding Natural Ingredients: The Way to a Suitable Solution

| Author/ Editor: Alexander Ullrich* / Manja Wühr

The Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites forecasts a global production capacity of 4,3 million tons of bioplasics in 2022 — a real growth market. A US bioplastic resin provider wants to be part of this success story and invested in a tailor made production plant. For the challenging handling and processing of the natural raw materials they found in Azo the right partner.

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Bioplastics made from waste starch help to make the plastics industry sustainable. But handling the new raw materials is not as easy it may seem.
Bioplastics made from waste starch help to make the plastics industry sustainable. But handling the new raw materials is not as easy it may seem.
(Source: ©Oleksandr, ©Africa Studio , ©Aleksander, ©Yeti Studio - stock.adobe.com; Robert_Lilienfeld; Azo; [M]Kron)

These days there are a lot of discussions about the plastic pollution and first resulting governmental requirements. So it’s getting more and more important to find alternatives to traditional plastic products. One way is to optimise current plastics to make them more environment friendly. Another way is to replace those products with completely new designed materials.

Biologiq Inc. is one of those companies that are working on great new materials and is a partner of the Azo Group. They are a bioplastic resin manufacturing company specialising in sustainable plastic products made from renewable resources, founded in 2011.

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The company’s intent was to create a useful plastic from the excess starch generated during potato processing. This led to the invention of a new kind of Thermo-plastic Starch (TPS) called Nuplastiq. Using its proprietary process, Biologiq makes a low moisture content plasticized starch resin. They make it in pellet form, so that plastic product manufacturers can use them like traditional plastic resin pellets on their standard production equipment.

Nuplastiq is designed to be blended with either conventional petroleum-resins or newer bio-based resins to make bio blends, which increase the sustainability of plastic products. For example, bags made with 25 % Nuplastiq and 75 % PE can be downgauged by 30 % and result in 50 % less fossil fuel being used to make the bags. The use of Nuplastiq can usually reduce greenhouse gas generation between 20 — 30 %.

The automated handling of these raw materials and new products is not as easy as it may seem. Due to the raw materials being natural and plant-based, there are natural fluctuating properties which can be very adherent, sticky or bridge building and even sensitive for dust explosions.

The challenge for Azo was to find a solution for those product requirements and to implement a tailor made plant into an existing production environment which is also expandable for the upcoming future. In addition, an ideal material flow has to be ensured to optimise the production and process costs. Biologiq, together with Azo‘s German engineering and expertise, developed a bio-polymer production plant with focus on quality, consistency and cost efficiency.

How the Future Started

The story started in 2016 through a first contact at a trade show in the US through the Azo´s sales team. The task given to Azo was to design a robust processing solution for natural based starch materials made from potato or corn. Through the introductory discussions it quickly became clear that Azo and Biologiq could become partner on this project to develop together the most suitable technical solution for this new technology.

Based on the initial design, Biologiq and Azo commenced trials together at the Azo test centre in Osterburken, Germany. The goal was to discover possible limitations during these trials, which could be challenging for pneumatic conveying, regarding natural fluctuating properties. During this phase, the important factor was interdisciplinary teamwork. The team had to overcome those obstacles and to find fast solutions with direct testing and test results.

After trials at Azo in Osterburken, Germany, Biologiq continued necessary testing in the existing production facility in Idaho to check the quality of the product. The quality of the compound exceeds the expectations of the Azo trials.

The next step was to adapt and scale up the test results to the layout of a production plant in the US and a second in China leveraging Azo’s ability to support US and global standards. Having this options Biologiq is prepared for installations in all areas of the globe. Azo continued additional testing as needed during the whole project phase.

The first layout was designed for existing brown field in Blackfoot. The results of Azo’s integrative engineering shows that the brown field installations has too much limitations regarding material flow, production and installation costs. A calculation of profitability shows a much better ROI (Return on Investment) for a new production site. Therefore, the project was changed to a green field project to ensure a futureproof production.

The core design from Azo included the handling and processing of natural materials such as corn or potato starch resulting in a tailor-made solution designed for the needs of new innovative products.

During the project phase, the cooperation was driven by mutual trust and willingness to adapt changes and innovative modifications in a solution-oriented way! This worked only with interdisciplinary discussion, fast solutions and realization with results.

The Heart of the System

The Azo-Mixomat is particularly well suited to discontinuous, gravimetric loading as well as to mixing and dyeing of granulate exactly as specified in the recipe, with masterbatch, re-work, pigments and additives. It can be used for medium to high throughputs values, depending on the customers’ requirements.

Such a Mixomat is one of the core components of the new system, which combines four functions in one system: transporting, dosing, weighing and mixing in one compact, economical system. It can supply up to 30 components via switching valves and guarantees high repetition accuracy due to accurate weighing and recording of all components. Also, rapid colour changes are easy to handle and it’s really easy to clean for the customer. Furthermore, the Mixomat ensures precise throughput registration for each processing machine. Compact, pre-assembled modules are the base for rapid startup in existing or new production plants.

Azo never stops developing for its customers — for new kind of potential business or even the existing know how in bulk material handling, raw material handling, pneumatic conveying systems, mixer feeding, screeners & bulk containers for the reliable automation of production processes for the industry in foodstuff, pharmaceutical, chemical and plastic.

Automatic conveying of bulk solids is sometimes a tricky challenge — and one that Azo has been living up to for nearly 70 years. Today, the company automates raw materials handling in the food, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and plastic sectors all around the world. Learn more in our special “Milestones in chemical, pharma and process engineering“: process-worldwide.com/milestones.

Additional Information
Conveying of Bulk Solids
Conveying of Bulk Solids: Why are trials so important?

There are no standard solutions when it comes to automatic conveying of bulk solids in production plants, because no bulk material is like another. That’s why every year, around 250 tests are conducted with customers’ products and analysed in detail in the Azo technology centre.

Bulk materials can demonstrate widely varying properties which necessitate a great deal of experience and in-depth knowledge of the characteristics of the materials being handled. This is important when it comes to designing and planning new plants and expanding existing equipment. These properties include bulk material density, size and form of particles, moisture and other parameters. Precise definition of the flow characteristics is also a vital factor. Only once armed with this knowledge it is possible to achieve solutions for reliable and efficient automation.

All the results obtained in the Azo technical centre and the bulk materials lab are recorded and documented accurately in Azo’s bulk materials database. This allows us permanent access to the most recent data. The conveying, dosing and screening tests are conducted under real-life conditions. The tests and the results from the lab are linked with the customer projects in the database. By using product, test and project data, the bulk solids specialists are able to guarantee the optimum design to match the client’s specific brief.

Additional Information
Interview with Steven Sherman, COO of Biologiq, and Karl-Heinz Bussbach, Global Business Director Azo
Interview with Steven Sherman, COO of Biologiq, and Karl-Heinz Bussbach, Global Business Director Azo

PROCESS: Mr Sherman and Mr Bussbach, what impressed you the most during the project phase?

Steven Sherman, COO of Biologiq
Steven Sherman, COO of Biologiq
( Source: Biologiq )

Sherman: Critical decisions were made quickly, and innovative solutions were created together as partners.

Bussbach: During the project I was impressed from solution-oriented interdisciplinary cooperation of the project team. The team created innovative ideas, did practical test and implemented the result to an industry suitable solution. Also design approvals had been necessary to fulfil e.g. the dust explosion protection standards.

PROCESS: Mr Sherman, are there more reasons, why you chose Azo as partner for this project?

Sherman: The company structure of Azo, with more than 40 years of experience in the US and experienced teams in China and other areas of the world, perfectly meet the requirements of Biologiq growth strategy. The company offers great technical expertise and can support us all around the globe.

PROCESS: Are there any closing things you want to say?

Sherman: Due to Azo’s collaborative style, we see them as a perfect partner for our growth strategy.

Karl-Heinz Bußbach, Global Business Director Azo
Karl-Heinz Bußbach, Global Business Director Azo
( Source: Azo )

Bussbach: The key factor to create a win-win situation for Biologiq and Azo was a trustful partnership with the willingness for mutual understanding. Only with competent and comprehensive advice and cooperation Azo is able to create long term partnerships and business relations. Due to this we enable our customers to be competitive in the marked.

* The author is part of Azo’s Marketing Team, Osterburken/Germany.

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