The total polymer consumption of Western Europe is about 50 mln tpa. According to the University of Utrecht, bioplastics could technically substitute about 42 mln tons of this. Technically, biobased plastics could potentially substitute about 85% of polymers. Nevertheless, there simply is not yet enough volume produced to make this a short - or midterm possibility. The production of bioplastics is projected to increase from today's around 1.2 mln tons (2011) to nearly 6 mln tons in 2016. Bioplastics are rightly regarded as a family of materials that offers multiple perspectives to both industry and society. The bioplastics market up to now was characterised by high and steady market growth rates of at least 20% pa. Within the coming years, growth will take up considerably. As production capacities grow, supply options for bioplastics materials and products will increase. In addition, based on forecasts for the development of crude oil prices, the use of renewable resources will also become increasingly economical in the future.
Numerous countries outside the European Union are actively pursuing the development of bioplastics, yet Europe in particular offers excellent conditions to compete globally for future markets and technologies. These include:
However, a disturbing trend to be observed is the geographic distribution of production capacities. Europe remains interesting as location for research and development and also important as sales market. The establishment of new production capacities, however, is favoured in South America and Asia. Initial research into bioplastics was undertaken several decades ago. Today bioplastics are mature materials and have entered the market of mass products. The current market is characterized by high growth and strong diversification. There is a multitude of applications ranging from beverage bottles in the packaging segment to keyboards in the consumer electronics segment.
Depending on the application different types of bioplastics are processed in these products:
The global production capacity for bioplastics amounted to over 1 mln tons in 2011. Following the technical trial facilities at the beginning of the 1990s and the subsequent upscaling phase, industrial-scale capacity has now been achieved. As more facilities go on-stream, production of bioplastics is projected to increase to nearly 6 mln tons by the year 2016. By far the strongest growth will be in the biobased, non-biodegradable bioplastics group. Especially the so-called ‘drop-in’ solutions, i.e. biobased versions of bulk plastics like PE and PET, that merely differ from their conventional counterparts in terms of their renewable raw material base, are building up large capacities. A trend becoming more and more visible is that biobased, non-biodegradable commodity plastics (socalled “drop-ins”) will account for the bulk of the bioplastics production capacity in the future. With a growing numbers of materials, applications and products, the number of manufacturers, converters and end-users increases steadily. Significant financial investments have been made into production and marketing to guide and accompany this development. Legal framework conditions provide incentives for the use of bioplastics in several countries worldwide, providing stimulus to the market. Leading the field is partially biobased PET, which was accounting for approximately 40% of the global bioplastics production capacity in 2011. This bioplastic will continue to extend its lead to more than 4.6 mln tons by 2016. That would then correspond to 80% of the total bioplastics production capacity. However, biodegradable plastics are also demonstrating impressive growth rates. Their production capacity will increase by two-thirds by 2016. Leading contributors to this growth will be PLA and PHA, each of them accounting for 298,000 tons (+50%) and 142,000 tons (+ 550%) respectively.
(Source Courtsey: en.european-bioplastics.org)