Trend Report on Bioplastics
The conversion from hydrocarbons to carbohydrates and CO2 as feedstock to produce chemicals and polymers becomes more significant every year. According to the new trend report "Bio-based polymers, a revolutionary change" from nova-Institute, Hürth, Germany, bio-based chemicals like adipic acid, butanediol, furandicarboxylic acid, lactic acid and succinic acid will form bio-based chemical platforms worth more than EUR 30 billion by 2030. Although these chemicals are to a large extend used for polymer production, there are also other polymer related developments focusing on renewable feedstock use.
Polylactic acid (PLA) has left the embryonic stage for the early-growth stage of the S-curve, while Polybutylene succinate (PBSX) and Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are still a phase behind that. The main bio-based activities for thermosets are in polyurethanes (PU). The total PU market is expected to be EUR 30 billion by 2020, while the bio-based part of this is ever increasing and expected to be 20% by that time. Although these polymers will most likely be partly bio-based, the availability of bio-based versions of all raw materials for PU is growing strongly.
A common argument is that the introduction of bio-based materials is not going fast enough, but according to nova-Institute that clearly needs some nuancing: Drop-in materials move very fast, provided their cost/performance-ratio is competitive with their fossil counterparts. After all, tedious application development programs are not needed. It is a different story for new building blocks and polymers, since applications come one at the time. However, the growth of bio-based succinic acid shows a quite normal pattern for new materials on the market, says the trend report.
Both chemo-catalytic and fermentative conversion technologies are being developed to produce renewable materials. In most cases the jury is still out on the best technology for some of the materials, like lactic acid, furans or butanediol. The use of bio-waste streams and non-edible feedstock also plays an increasingly important role. Companies move towards these resources for cost reasons and to stay away from discussions on competition with the food chain and use of arable land.
More and more non-traditional players from the wood, paper, potato, sugar and other agricultural industries enter at the front end of the bio-based materials value chain. At the same time, several of the large traditional oil and chemical companies are also developing significant activities in this direction.
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