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Why This Footwear Materials Maker Doubled Down on Bio-Based Plastics

In February, Applicazioni Plastiche Industriali (API) introduced Apilon 52 Bio Light, its new thermoplastic polyurethane material based on bio-based content. The material, it claimed, is easier and cheaper to produce while being more sustainable than alternatives on the footwear midsole manufacturing market.

By the summer, the firm had received Textile Exchange’s Global Recycled Standard accreditation for three TPU materials. To be certified, a material needs to contain at least 20 percent pre-consumer or post-consumer recycled content.

Just over nine months after API’s TPU debut, its parent company Trinseo appears to have doubled down on thermoplastics, opening a new thermoplastic elastomers pilot facility in Hsinchu, Taiwan.

The new Hsinchu plant will play a significant role in helping Trinseo reach its 2030 sustainability goals, which specify that sustainably sourced materials form the basis of 40 percent of the company’s portfolio, the manufacturer said. Bio-based and biodegradable TPE and TPU materials comprise a significant portion of its environmentally friendly portfolio and the pilot facility is expected to accelerate adoption and development of these solutions, it added.

The new facility—a “major step” in the company’s wider growth strategy for TPEs—enables it to locally produce custom-engineered TPE and TPU, together with its bioplastics portfolio, for customers in the Asia-Pacific region, Trinseo said. It will complement the manufacturer’s main TPE development center in Mussolente, Italy.

The global materials solutions provider added the new pilot facility to its existing manufacturing site in Hsinchu. The location, it said, “will enable faster innovation cycles in close collaboration with customers for sustainably advantaged materials in the automotive, consumer electronics, footwear and medical markets.”

Despite challenges posed by the pandemic, Trinseo said the new Hsinchu plant launched on schedule. Upon its opening, the plastics, latex binders and synthetic rubber manufacturer logged more than 15,000 safety hours in a development project that spanned three regions.

“The pilot plant offers a potential platform through which Trinseo can [fulfill] increasing demand for TPEs, brought about by megatrends such as the growth in telemedicine and the convergence of medical and consumer electronics,” Francesca Reverberi, vice president of engineered materials and synthetic rubber at Trinseo, said in a statement. “These trends bring a requirement for more user-friendly and sustainable devices with greater use of soft-touch materials and bio-based plastics.”