Bioplastics growth set to soar but Europe could be left behind, says trade body

By Joe Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Polylactic acid Bioplastic

European Bioplastics predict fivefold growth of market by 2016
European Bioplastics has predicted fivefold growth of bioplastics by 2016 but warned South America and Asia are favoured for new manufacturing sites.

European Bioplastics has predicted fivefold growth of bioplastics by 2016 but warned South America and Asia are favoured for new manufacturing sites.

The forecast, published with the Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites at the University of Hannover, said production volumes would hit 5.8 million tonnes by 2016 from its 2011 rate of 1.2 million tonnes.

Leading contributors to this growth will be polylactic acid (PLA) and Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), each of them accounting for 298,000 tonnes (+50%) and 142,000 tonnes (+ 550%) respectively.

Disturbing trend

The forecast noted a disturbing trend with the geographic distribution of production capacities. Europe and North America remain interesting locations for research and development and important sales markets.

However, new production capacities are favoured in South America and Asia such as Braskem’s 200,000 metric-ton-per-year plant opened in 2010 in Brazil.

Kirsty Barbara Lange, head of communication at European Bioplastics, told that Europe had shown general support but no concrete measures or standards.

“Standards are unclear on when a plastic can be called bio-based and there is a lack of concrete standards, so maybe little incentives may be needed.

“Harmonisation and standardisation are key and we know it takes years and years for everything to be worked out, which is why we are taking big, but not exaggerated steps, and taking our time to progress.”

Andy Sweetman, chairman of European Bioplastics, said: “European Bioplastics invites European policy makers to convert their declared interest into concrete measures​.

“If Europe wants to profit from growth at all levels of the value chain in our industry, it is high time the corresponding decisions are made.”

The strongest growth will be in the biobased, non-biodegradable bioplastics group and the so-called ‘drop-in’ solutions, i.e. biobased versions of bulk plastics like PE and PET, due to their renewable raw material base.

Production capacity for biodegradable plastics will increase by two-thirds by 2016, said the forecast.

PET leading demand

Partially biobased polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is leading the demand, already accounting for approximately 40% of the global bioplastics production capacity.

Partially biobased PET will continue to extend this lead to more than 4.6 million tonnes by 2016 or 80% of the total bioplastics production capacity.

Biobased polyethylene (PE) would be next with 250,000 tonnes and more than 4% of total production capacity.

When asked if a fully bio-based bottle could be a reality by 2020, such as Coca-Cola’s plant bottle,    Lange said it could be possible.

“The 30% bio-based PET bottle from Coca-Cola shows the industry is taking this seriously and investing a lot in getting the potential up.

“It could be possible but not all the 30% to 100% in one go, it would need to be a small amount and build up to manufacturing scale by trying some countries before a global rollout.”

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