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Sugarcane Puts Bounce in Soccer Ball

Dec. 12, 2017
Bio-based ethylene provides a moldable cushion that boosts the ball’s performance

When Russia and Saudi Arabia kick off the 2018 World Cup in Moscow on June 14, the new soccer ball they use will rely on a novel bio-based polymer for its bounce.


Under the thin outer covering of the new Adidas Telstar 18 football is a synthetic rubber layer manufactured by Arlanxeo, Maastricht, The Netherlands — a 50-50 joint venture between Lanxess and Saudi Aramco JV.

Known as Keltan Eco 6950, it is the world’s first ethylene-propylene-diene monomer (EPDM) to be manufactured using bio-based ethylene extracted from sugarcane, Arlanxeo says. Its amorphous structure and high crosslinking density leads to good low-temperature properties and meets the requirements for the best possible elasticity and resilience. As such, it serves as a moldable cushion for the ball and supports optimal bounce characteristics during games.

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“For us, ecological sustainability was a fundamental criterion in the selection of products for the World Cup soccer ball. We wanted to create the new soccer ball using high-tech materials that have impressive performance characteristics and are also sustainable,” explains Stefan Bichler, project manager of football operations at Adidas, Herzogenaurach, Germany.

Kelton Eco 6950 is one of six different grades currently on the market. Five, including 6950, have a 50% bio-ethylene content while one has 70%. They offer equivalent performance to conventional, petroleum-based EPDM and can be used as high performance, heat- and weather-resistant elastomers (up to 150°C) for demanding automotive applications, such as seals for coolants, brake fluids, hydraulic fluids and steam. They also find other sports-based applications in artificial turf and athletics tracks.

“Keltan Eco has the renowned quality characteristics of EPDM rubber that is made using fossil raw materials,” says Martin Kleimeier, project director and global marketing manager for the Arlanxeo Keltan business line.

“With the full Keltan Eco portfolio, we have developed EPDM products that save resources, reduce our use of fossil-based products and also have a carbon footprint that is significantly lower than conventionally manufactured polymers,” adds Chretien Rooijakkers, head of global marketing for the Keltan line.

Independent lifecycle assessments show that Keltan Eco EPDM grades reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 50% versus their equivalent Keltan EPDM product.

Although headquartered in Maastricht, Arlanxeo manufactures Keltan Eco at its Triunfo site in Brazil. Its partner Braskem produces the bio-based ethylene, which flows directly by pipeline to the EPDM plant.

Braskem says its Triunfo facility was the first green ethylene plant in the world. In addition, the site houses Braskem’s center for innovation and technology, a complex of 18 laboratories and six pilot plants that develop and support new technologies and materials. The complex also manufactures conventional polypropylene as well as low-density and high-density polyethylene.

Based on research carried out at Triunfo, in November 2017, Braskem signed a technological cooperation deal with Haldor Topsoe, Lyngby, Denmark, to develop a pioneering route to produce monoethylene glycol (MEG) from sugar.

MEG is a key component of PET resin, the main man-made raw material used in the textile and packaging industries to make bottles. The project is based on a two-step process developed at Topsoe’s labs along with its own catalysts, and focuses on the conversion of sugar into MEG at a single industrial unit, which will reduce initial investment in the production and boost the competitiveness of the process.

“Catalysis will play an extremely important role in the development of sustainable solutions that produce important chemicals from renewable sources such as sugars. We are proud to deliver the ground-breaking technology for the project with Braskem, and we look forward to applying our world-leading competencies within catalysis and process engineering in the further commercialization of this important technology,” says Kim Knudsen, executive vice president at Haldor Topsoe.

“This novel bio-based initiative allies a cutting-edge technology with deep expertise in process design, scaleup and industrial operation, and will allow us to push the renewable chemistry to a whole new level. After green polyethylene, this is another major step forward in our vision of using renewable polymers as a carbon capture tool and keep contributing to a more sustainable future,” adds Mateus Lopes, head of innovation in renewable chemicals at Braskem.

The agreement calls for constructing a demonstration plant in Denmark, with operation slated to begin in 2019. The plant will conduct tests to validate the technology and confirm its technical and economic feasibility. The unit’s flexibility will allow testing of the technology on different raw materials such as sucrose, dextrose and second-generation sugars.

Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can email him at [email protected].

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