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Pioneering a Bioplastic Revolution

Fusing sustainability with tradition

While the image of plastic made from plants might seem like science fiction, NEC is making it a reality. Through years of research and development, we are pioneering the use of bioplastics – sustainable alternatives to traditional plastics – for our electronics products.

The growing plastic problem

The global plastic crisis is a pressing concern. The demand for single-use plastics is expected to grow by 6.1% in 2023, reaching a staggering US$47 billion by 2033. This, coupled with inadequate waste management infrastructure in many parts of the world, leads to significant plastic pollution and environmental damage.

A pioneering journey with bioplastics

Recognizing this challenge, NEC began exploring bioplastics in 2006, starting with flame-retardant plastics for mobile phone casings. This pioneering spirit led us to develop the world’s first mobile phone casing made mostly of bioplastics – a testament to our commitment to sustainable innovation.

Mobile phone casing made of kenaf fiber-reinforced polylactic acid

This early success fueled further innovation, resulting in the first practical application of polylactic acid (PLA) composites in various products like business computers and point-of-sale systems.

Fusing form and function

We didn’t stop there. Recognizing the potential of bioplastics to go beyond mere utility and embrace aesthetics, we developed a unique technology in collaboration with the Kyoto Institute of Technology to adjust color and light reflectance in bioplastics. This led to the creation of NeCycle®, a biomaterial composed of approximately 50% inedible cellulose, making it not only environmentally friendly but also durable enough for various applications in electronics. 

As Shukichi Tanaka, Director, Secure System Platform Research Laboratories, describes it, “It has a deep and warm blackness that is akin to that of lacquerware. The main characteristic of this material is that it can be freely molded and achieves this gorgeous blackness like lacquerware without any coating process. It can be manufactured by injection molding just like regular plastics. It does not need a coating process unlike synthetic lacquerware (plastics coated with lacquer), so the shapes that can be formed and the ability to mass produce should be greatly increased. Aside from the obvious reduced negative environmental impact, it’s an entirely new kind of material that makes it possible to give components of various shapes an air of luxury thanks to its black lacquerware-like appearance.”

Shukichi Tanaka, Director, Secure System Platform Research Laboratories

Looking forward

NeCycle® represents a significant milestone in NEC’s bioplastics journey in perfect tandem with our Mid-Term Environmental Plan, aiming for decarbonization and mitigating global warming. 

By embracing this innovative technology, we are not only reducing our environmental footprint but also paving the way for a circular economy where waste becomes a valuable resource. We invite partners in Japan to join us on this journey as we work towards a future where technology and sustainability go hand in hand.

Bioplastics: A Sustainable Alternative

Bioplastics offer several advantages that hold immense potential for the electronics industry:

  • Reduced Carbon Footprint: Bioplastics boast a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to their fossil fuel-based counterparts. This is because their production utilizes renewable resources and often involves less energy compared to traditional plastics.
  • Biodegradability: Certain types of bioplastics are biodegradable under specific conditions, decomposing naturally over time unlike conventional plastics. This significantly reduces waste accumulation and its associated environmental impact.
  • Circular Economy Potential: Bioplastics present a unique opportunity to move towards a circular economy within the electronics industry. They can be composted and turned into fertilizer, creating a closed-loop system where waste becomes a valuable resource.

March 28, 2024