Bioplastics are set to see double-digit growth but they must become effective and economical, not just ecologically sound as per a new report by Lux Research.
The study said that biopolymers currently have just a one per cent value share of the $1.6 trillion annual global plastics market and around 0.1 per cent in volume terms. Biopolymers' current performance is worse compared to their conventional counterparts on every dimension except the ecological. Food packaging is one of a growing number of industries where the development and growth of bioplastics is being scrutinised with interest.
But despite these challenges, growing consumer demand and the continued volatility of oil prices still means the outlook for bioplastics is buoyant, said the report. Even so, their impact is likely to remain limited far into the future.
However, in order for biopolymers to fulfil their potential they must be effective, with their performance levels equivalent or superior to conventional materials. This includes such attributes as temperature tolerance, physical strength, crystallinity and hardness, said the study. Factors such as unit cost, functional lifetime and end-of-life value are all important when considering the economic competitiveness of biopolymers.
To improve market penetration in the near-term, developers should focus on applications where effective performance is a secondary consideration (as in single-use applications); economic impact is minimal and ecological profile merits a premium. Many plastic products – including some packaging – are over-engineered and this give biopolymer suppliers the opportunity “to work with buyers to target the optimal level of performance, while offering more ecologically sound products that appeal to consumers”, said the report.
In the short-term, the cost of biopolymers will limit them to niche applications. Although the performance of some biopolymers like polylactic acid (PLA) can match their petroleum-based counterparts, these materials cost nearly twice as much, as long as oil is below $100/barrel.