In the latest of our series of finalist interviews, we speak to Pre-Commercialised Innovation finalist Triple Line Technology to find out more about their aerosol foam dispenser that can dispense microfoams from aerosol without needing liquified propellants or dissolved gases.

Congratulations on being selected by the international judging panel as a Sustainability Awards 2020 finalist! Could you please introduce your successful entry and what’s innovative about it?

Triple Line Technology has developed a novel foam generation technology that can be used to dispense microfoams from aerosols without the need for liquified propellants (hydrocarbon VOCs) or dissolved gases (e.g. nitrous oxide). A wide range of sustainable aerosol foam products can be developed utilizing our technology including shaving foams, hair care and styling mousses, hair colourants, dry shampoos, body wash foams, cosmetic and medicated skin products, foamed sunscreens, tanning products, and surface cleaners.

This technology consists of a single low complexity component, which is amenable to low cost, high volume manufacturing processes ( injection moulding). Products based upon this technology are compatible with standard off the shelf aerosol valves and cans, and may also be filled on standard aerosol filling lines. 

What are the environmental challenges in packaging that your entry addresses, and what impact do you hope it will make?

The vast majority of aerosols utilise VOCs or dissolved gases as propellants and foaming agents. The release of these gases during manufacturing processes, product use and disposal are now being highlighted as significant environmental and human health issues. 

Increasing concern over sustainability, global warming, air quality, and human health is placing the aerosol industry under increasing level of consumer and legislative pressure. Though aerosols provide a convenient packaging and dispensing format their current gas propellant systems are proving challenging to defend in continued widespread use. Hydrocarbon based VOC propellants are predominantly obtained from petrochemical sources, and are now known to contribute to the formation of low altitude ozone and photo-smog in urbanised areas; both of which are impacting human respiratory health. Clean air is of increasing concern to a number of legislative and government bodies globally including the US state of California, South Korea, EU, and the UK. In the UK Government’s ‘Clean Air Strategy Document’ (2019)  indoor air quality and VOCs are cited as of specific concern to human health, in particular to those suffering from respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Under the indoor air quality section of this document aerosol products are specifically mentioned, along with a proposed traffic light system for informing consumers of the pollution potential of the product. Though VOCs may come from non-propellant sources in aerosols (e.g. perfumes, solvents, excipients…) one of the largest contributors is the propellant system.

Nitrous oxide (another common gas used as a propellant/foaming agent) is a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 300 times that of carbon dioxide. Commercial production of nitrous oxide is highly energy intensive, involving the formation of ammonium nitrate, which is then thermally decomposed to produce the gaseous nitrous oxide.

TLT-foamer technology does not require either VOC propellants or nitrous oxide. Instead, environmentally neutral gases such as compressed air or nitrogen are used as the propellants. Hence TLT-based aerosols do not contribute to atmospheric pollution and do not aggravate or cause respiratory conditions.

If TLT-foamer technology were to be universally adopted for all shaving foam manufactured in the UK the total amount of VOC released to the atmosphere by UK manufactured aerosols would be reduced by approximately 12.5% equating to around 200 tonnes per year (this figure is based upon the 2014 aerosol filling figures from BAMA’s “Aerosols in Figures” document).

If TLT-foamer technology were to replace all US nitrous oxide based aerosols then CO2 equivalent emissions would be reduced by 1.5 million metric tonnes every year. This figure is based on an estimate of the amount of nitrous oxide contained within US aerosol cans and does not include the carbon sum attributed to the manufacture of the nitrous oxide gas.

Adoption of our technology in single use aerosols also makes them easier and safer to recycle. In the vast majority of cases where conventional aerosols are recycled, the propellant is vented to the atmosphere prior to recovering the can. Biffa estimates that in the UK around 180 tonnes of VOC propellant is vented to the atmosphere from used aerosols. In order to responsibly recycle aerosols, this propellant must be captured prior to recovering the can, however only a tiny proportion (1-2%) of aerosol cans are recycled in this manner. TLT-aerosols contain only environmentally neutral propellants (air or nitrogen) hence responsible recycling of TLT-aerosols is simplified since there are no harmful propellants to capture prior to recovering the aerosol can. 

I’d like to ask you about the broader picture beyond your successful entry. ‘Sustainability’ in packaging is multi-dimensional – both in terms of objectives and challenges. Could you comment on the most important roadblocks you identify from your position in the value chain, and the kinds of solutions you would like to see addressing them (e.g. areas of technological innovation, collaboration, regulation)?

As with every packaging innovation, cost is a significant constraint. Everyone always wants an environmentally friendly solution at no added cost and with zero impact on their existing manufacturing lines. Fortunately, we have developed our technology to the point where the small additional cost of implementing our technology is largely off-set by savings that can be made by replacing VOC propellants by lower cost compressed gas propellants (e.g. nitrogen or air). Additional savings will also be realised due to the lower costs of manufacturing, storing and transporting non-flammable aerosols. Products based upon our technology can also be filled on standard aerosol filling lines. 

Reducing capex outlay

Currently, the regulatory framework for aerosols is not internationally standardised, for example CARB (California Air Resource Board) have introduced aggressive targets for VOC emissions, but these targets have yet to be adopted federally in the US, and differ from targets and timelines in the EU and globally. Harmonisation of standards can best be achieved by international cooperation between multinationals and regulatory bodies.