Sugar for Your Head


July 2013

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Sugar cane is an economic staple in Brazil. More of the stuff grows there than in any other country, and Brazil has been enterprising in using its sugar resources. It has been a pioneer, for instance, in promoting the use of sugar-derived ethanol fuels for automobiles.

Now one of its petrochemicals companies and a U.S.-based safety equipment manufacturer have teamed up to develop a use for sugar that protects the skull: a hard hat made of high-density polyethylene produced from sugarcane ethanol.

The hard hat will be made of high-density polyethylene produced from sugarcane ethanol.

The hard hat will be made of high-density polyethylene produced from sugarcane ethanol.

The manufacturer, MSA Global, calls it the GRN hard hat and markets it as part of the V-Gard line. It makes the hat now in Brazil and is marketing it in South America. It plans to introduce the product to North America this year, though it is still working out pricing. The company makes all its hard hats for the North American market at a factory in Murraysville, PA. According to a spokesman for MSA, the price may be affected by the cost of importing the HDPE from Brazil.

The petrochemicals company, Braskem, has been producing the sugar cane HDPE on a commercial scale since 2010. It markets the material as green, not only because it is made from a renewable resource, but also because of the product's carbon footprint. Braskem estimates that each ton of sugar cane HDPE produced removes to 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while manufacturing polyethylene from petrochemicals emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at about the same ratio.

MSA believes that the GRN (short for "green") hard hat may be the first industrial safety product made almost entirely of renewable resources—"almost" because the suspension system is made of nylon and conventional plastic.

Thomas Muschter, MSA's vice president of global product leadership, said that the HDPE sourced from sugar cane has the same properties as resins made from non-renewable raw materials, and so the hat offers the same protection as one made from conventionally sourced material.

According to a press release from MSA, "Now workers have the option of using a hard hat that not only helps to protect their head, but protects the environment as well."

Now workers have the option of using a hard hat that not only helps to protect their head, but protects the environment as well.

MSA Global

 
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Harry Hutchinson

by Harry Hutchinson, Mechanical Engineering Magazine