Resin: Water Based vs. Solvent Based
Richlite has extensively researched every available resin to determine which solution produces the absolute highest quality material while having the lowest impact on the environment. The company’s paper and methanol/ethanol-based materials are unquestionably the best performing surfaces in the paper-composite class while Richlite’s Waste-to-Energy manufacturing process upholds the company’s strict commitment to the environment. This section compares Richlite’s process versus water-based alternative processes. Click on diagram to expand.
Water based resin: it sounds like a great environmental story, however, it is nothing but a catchy phrase. The first question you should ask yourself is: what holds the paper together? Water? Obviously not. What gets left out of the “water based resin” conversation is the entire process. Richlite’s engineers have extensively studied the entire process for years. In fact, Richlite has been manufacturing the material since 1943. Water base is simply a term that describes the diluting agent in the resin. Richlite chooses to use a methanol/ethanol mix to dilute its resin. Why not water since it’s less costly (practically free compared to methanol/ethanol) and on the surface sounds more environmentally friendly?
Over nearly seven decades in business, Richlite customers have come to depend on quality. Richlite materials were originally used as an industrial product before the architectural community discovered it so durability has been a priority since day one. From a pure quality standpoint – methanol/ethanol-based resin delivers better quality and a more consistent product.
The main issue with water-based resin pertaining to quality and also sustainability is the fact it is made with water. Water is not intended to burn. In order to produce paper-composite surfaces, the water or methanol must be burned off. Methanol and ethanol are designed for this and, therefore, instantly burn off. Water requires significant amounts of energy to burn off and there is never a guarantee that all water will be removed from the product, which can challenge quality.
Thin plastic laminate companies using a melamine surface use water-based resin on their backer sheets but probably can do so with success because it is only a couple of layers of paper. When you get beyond a few layers of paper, your resin system becomes vital to the integrity of the panel. A one-inch sheet of Richlite incorporates more than 200 layers of paper.
Richlite in recent years introduced its innovative WE Technology manufacturing process with three main components: a resin system, a vertical drying tower, and a catalytic converter. See WE Technology diagram for details of operation.
The manufacturing design essentially creates a closed-loop energy system. Waste from the methanol is heated through a catalytic converter to dry the material, something that would virtually be impossible with water-based solvents since water holds no energy or BTUs. As an added benefit, the catalytic converter is superior in destroying VOCs. When methanol/ethanol and other VOCs run through a catalytic converter a significant increase in temperature is automatically achieved to assist with the drying process.
Energy consumption is greatly reduced through WE technology due to superior airflow controls. The inclusion of a vertical drying tower minimizes required airflow during the drying process by four-and-a-half times. The Richlite process operates at about 3,500 DCFMs, whereas a horizontal drying process standard among competitors requires about 15,000 DCFMs. Because the airflow is much greater, competitors must create a greater amount of heat and consume more energy to maintain the airflow necessary to dry the product. Even without WE Technology, Richlite’s vertical tower alone only uses one small gas motor compared to the equivalent of four large gas motors on a horizontal dryer. WE Technology helped Richlite reduce its natural gas consumption by more than 80% in its first year of operation.
Richlite’s studies conclude that if the company switched to a water-based resin, used a horizontal dryer, and moved to a RTO instead of catalytic converter, Richlite would end up emitting 5.5 times the amount of CO2 over its current rate. The company’s minimal emissions qualify Richlite as a clean air manufacturer in Washington State.
The other form of energy we utilize is electricity, mainly within our office facilities. In the Pacific Northwest, we are fortunate to have a majority (nearly 90%) of our electricity derived from hydro. In addition, not only do we receive some of our electricty from wind power, Richlite Company was the first corporation in Tacoma to sign up for Tacoma Power's Evergreen Options program in 2001.
Supporting data for the study is based both off of Richlite’s newer WE Technology system and an older system the company has on site. Richlite also collected data from operating plants with similar saturating machines, and gathered data from local gas and utility providers who supply competitors.