In an impressive feat of engineering and corporate gamesmanship, IBM expects to commercialize the first-ever use of renewably-sourced plastics in computer servers.
A blend of polylactic acid (PLA) and polycarbonate developed by PolyOne has been qualified for use in a newly developed product series that will be introduced in the late fall.
The 30% PLA blend replaces a PC/ABS blend and will have a cost premium of about 90 cents per cover. Server pricing starts at about $6,000 per unit. Cost parity is expected in three to four years as the supply base builds for the PLA compound.
IBM procurement fought use of the blend in an existing application because of the cost premium. Development engineering owns the cost in the new application. Procurement is now helping to expand the supply base for the renewably sourced material to reduce costs.
IBM is also working with compounders RTP and Teknor Apex as well as resin producer Bayer MaterialScience to develop PLA/PC blends. Development work is also underway with Solegear, a smaller compounder specializing in renewable materials.
So far, the only material with a UL yellow card is the PolyOne reSound compound.
The application was a good candidate for a sustainable application because it does not require the impact strength offered by polycarbonate. That spec was rewritten,while the PLA blend meets all other required mechanicals.
The parts will be molded and assembled (Foxconn) in China. The substitution program was launched two years ago as part of a sustainability program at IBM.
An IBM engineering team leader reviewed the new cover strategy in a presentation at Innovation Takes Root, a conference held by Nature Works this week in Orlando, Fl.