Bioplastics and the search for green packaging
Bioplastics are starting to take off, driven by sustainability concerns, particularly among major brands. GTForum investigates.
Poised for growth
The global bioplastics market is expected to reach revenues of over US$2.8 billion in 2018, according to Ceresana Research, with annual growth rates averaging 17.8%. While Europe was responsible for about 48% of the market in 2010, followed by North America and the Asia-Pacific, the latter is expected to catch up quickly, with South America also predicted to see strong growth, led by large capacity additions in Brazil.
In 2010, starch-based bioplastics accounted for the bulk of demand, with polylactic acid (PLA) in second place. Other bio-based plastics, such as PHA/PHB, cellulose, PBS and fossil fuel-based biodegradable plastics represented less than 17% of global demand. Ceresana expects non-biodegradable plastics made from renewable feedstocks to increase their market share from the 8% seen in 2010 to over 48% by 2018.
A similar study conducted by Lux Research is more bullish, expecting the market in bio-based chemicals and plastics to expand to US$19.7 billion in 2016, with capacity for 17 major bio-based materials rising to 9.2Mta, compared with the 3.8Mta estimated for 2011.
“Several strong forces – consumer preference, corporate commitment, and government mandates and support – are driving development in this space,” says Kalib Kersh, Lux research analyst and lead author of the report.
Lux expects growth in bio-based materials to start to moderate during its forecast period. It also expects the share of cellulose polymers and starch derivatives in total capacity to drop from the 45% seen in 2011 to 21% in 2016. Consolidation in the sector is predicted to take place by 2016, with leaders in the industry buying up technologies and access to feedstock.
Meanwhile, research firm Reportlinker expects the global bioplastics market to be worth US$2.9 billion in 2015. “Global demand for biodegradable and bio-based plastics will more than triple to over 1Mt in 2015…” It notes that biodegradable plastics accounted for 90% of the world’s bioplastics market in 2010, and predicts “excellent growth” for starch-based resins and polylactic acid, “both of which will more than double in demand through 2015”. It expects more rapid demand for PLA, due in part to “advancements in compounding polymerisation technology, as well as its relatively low cost compared to other bioplastics”.
Growing demand from major brands
One of the driving forces behind the push for more renewable and sustainable packaging is that of customer demand. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are both moving in this direction, with Coca-Cola having recently introduced PlantBottle packaging, which is up to 30% plant-based, with the bioplastic contribution coming from monoethylene glycol (MEG), which the company can now make from renewable feedstock. Coca-Cola states that its ultimate goal is a “carbon-neutral, 100% renewable, responsibly sourced bottle that is fully recyclable”. It is currently exploring with partners the possibility of producing purified terephthalic acid (PTA) from plants.
Coca-Cola has also signed a partner agreement to further co-develop Avantium’s patented YXY technology for producing 100% bioplastic-based bottles using polyethylene furanoate (PEF). The YXY technology converts biomass into “furanics building blocks, such as FDCA (2,5-furandicarboxylic acid), the monomer for the production of PEF”.
In a December 2011 press release, Avantium’s CEO, To van Aken, said: “We have already made bottles with exceptional barrier and thermal properties and our production process fits well with existing supply chains. We plan to initiate commercial production of PEF in about three to four years.”
Avantium has also entered into a partnership with Rhodia, a member of the Solvay group, to jointly develop a range of bio-based polyamides, “targeting a variety of applications…based on Avantium’s YXY technology in the larger polyamide field”.
Meanwhile, PepsiCo has developed a “100% plant-based PET bottle made from fully renewable sources”, and is looking to start pilot product of the new bottle in 2012.
Another company working to reduce the environmental impact of its packaging through increased use of bioplastics is Proctor & Gamble, which has declared a “long-term vision” to have all its products and packages made from “100% renewable and recycled materials”, to increase the sustainability of its business model. P&G is also looking for opportunities to use bio-resin where it makes business and technical sense.
“Our 2020 goals [include] a 25% shift from non-renewable to renewable bio-based materials and a 20% reduction in packaging used per consumer,” a company spokesperson told GTForum.
“We have already started with our recent launch of Pantene Nature Fusion, which uses renewable HDPE sourced from sugar cane. This material is chemically identical to petroleum-sourced HDPE and equally recyclable.”