A specialty company that focuses on online optical measurement for process analytical chemistry has received $250,000 to develop technologies to monitor the color of polymers online.

Polymer color is a key ingredient in plastics manufacturing. The monitoring would occur during the high-heat, high-pressure extrusion process when the temperature and pressure can damage monitoring devices. Online monitoring would remove that risk. Currently, if polymers are the wrong color, they often are recycled back through the extrusion process. Although this does save the material, the redundancy of the process uses extra energy and increases carbon emissions.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Industrial Technologies Program went to Guided Wave Inc., Rancho Cordova, Calif., as part of the Industrial Energy Efficiency Grand Challenge. The award helps to financially support the development of transformational industrial processes and technologies that can significantly reduce the energy intensity and/or greenhouse gas emissions of U.S. industry. The company has served the polymer, chemistry, petroleum, pharmaceutical, sterilization and semiconductor industries for more than 20 years.

The device under development is meant to withstand the high heat and pressure inside an extruder. Being able to monitor color in this early stage of production will ensure that the target color is reached without the need for an energy intensive and wasteful repetition of the process.

Aside from the engineering challenges created by the high temperatures, high pressure and low-light conditions of the polymer color process, Guided Wave says that high development costs have kept the technology from advancing. ITP’s grant made Guided Wave’s research and development project possible, helping the company offer industry an energy saving advancement in a cost-effective way, according to the company.

Guided Wave’s technology will enhance the production of an array of products – from detergent containers to plastic bottles. If developments are successful, the new technology could improve both productivity and energy efficiency in plastics manufacturing.

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