The company says that it therefore aims by 2010 to extend the production capacity for both its Ecoflex and Ecovio biodegradable plastics at its Ludwigshafen plant in Germany by 46,000 tonnes. Upon completion of the expansion, BASF expects a total annual output at the site of 60,000 metric tones per year for the petrochemical-derived Ecoflex and polylactic acid (PLA)-based Ecovio. PLA Biodegradable products derived from materials like PLA are being increasingly sought after by food processors as both a renewable and bio-based source of packagin coatings, as consumer and government pressure to cut the environmental impact of what we consume escalates. PLA, a starch derivative, can be produced from maize and other plants. The material is available in a range of blends and can be used in sheet or film form for a diverse range of products including food containers. PLA can also have applications for packaging non-carbonated beverages such as milk, water and juices. Global demand Michael Stumpp, head of BASF's global speciality polymers unit, said that demand for biodegradable and bio-based plastics were growing at a rate of 20 per cent per year, highlighting the strong prospects for the materials. "Ecoflex, our successful biodegradable polyester, and the innovation Ecovio are already giving us significant participation in this growing market," he stated. "The new production capacities will substantially strengthen and consolidate our position." As well as production benefits for the materials, BASF claimed that the expansion of its operations would also allow for improved distribution. The materials Ecoflex was devised by BASF as a petrochemical-based material that had the functionality of polyethylene, while at the same time being fully biodegradable in order to comply with DIN EN 13432 requirements for compostability. Ecovio, which itself is partly derived from Ecoflex, contains 45 per cent of PLA, on a weight-basis, the company said. The product can be used to produce flexible films from which biodegradable carrier bags or a variety of other packaging can be made. Food packaging for products like yoghurt can be produced if other components are added to Ecovio, the group said. Biodegradable plastics Biodegradable plastics are completely degraded within a few weeks under compositing conditions and may be produced from either petrochemical or renewable raw materials.