Scarpa, a prestigious Italian footwear company, make some of the most popular plastic telemark and alpine touring ski boots on the planet. And in recent times they've decided to also look after that planet a tad more.
For they're making some of their iconic ski boots from Pebax Rnew, a plastic derived from castor oil. This renewable material extracted from the oil rich seed (40% to 60% oil) of the castor oil plant, or Ricinus communis, has many positive industrial design qualities. (Over and above it's much proclaimed medicinal properties.)
So much so that it is also finding it's way into running shoes and sunglasses, which we delve into after the fold.
When I was working a bush regenerator, castor oil plants were our nemesis, a rampant weed to be swiftly extracted before they overran a native ecosystem. But as with many plants, in their appropriate environment they can perform beneficial functions.
In this instance, castor oil has been adopted by chemical company Arkema to manufacture a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) they brand as Pebax. Their Rnew version is considered to be the bio-based TPE to offer high performance without compromises. Some of those performance characteristics include: low density, flexible without fatiguing, energy return, power transmission, low temperature application, chemical and ultra violet (UV) light resistance.
Performance parameters which apply well to ski boots, like the Scarpa's Terminator telemark boots and Tornado alpine ski boots.
Akema (a chemical company spun off from France's Total, one of the world's six largest energy/oil giants) interestingly point to Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) results for Pebax Rnew which suggest its use compared to petroleum based plastics results in reductions of up to 29% of fossil energy used and 32% of equivalent CO2 emissions. Apparently it is possible to specify Pebax Rnew plastic with 20% to 94% "carbon atoms" from renewable resources.
An environmental and performance story which has also attracted running footwear business Mizuno to the material. They've employed this bio-based thermoplastic elastomer for the Wave Technology plates in four 2009 models of their high performance running shoes.
But Pebax Rnew ain't just for footwear. Smith Sport Optics will use the material in the frames of 20 of their line of sunglasses due for release in January 2010. Smith reckon their "Evolve" collection with the castor-oil-based plastic resin are comfy on the face, light, impact-resistant, durable and flexible.