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Biobased polymer capacity to triple to 17 mln tons in 2020- PET, PLA, PHA to show fastest growth

Biobased polymer capacity to triple to 17 mln tons in 2020- PET, PLA, PHA to show fastest growth

Bio-based polymers production capacity will triple from 5.1 mln tons in 2013 to 17 mln tons in 2020. Bio-based drop-in PET and the new polymers PLA and PHA show the fastest rates of market growth. The lion’s share of capital investment is expected to take place in Asia. Germany’s nova-Institut carried out a study in collaboration with renowned international experts from the field that investigates every kind of bio-based polymer and, for the first time, several major building blocks produced around the world.
The production capacity for bio-based polymers boasts very impressive development and annual growth rates, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of almost 20% in comparison to petrochemical polymers, which have a CAGR between 3-4%. The 5.1 mln tons bio-based polymer production capacity represent a 2% share of overall structural polymer production at 256 mln tons in 2013 and a bio-based polymer turnover of about €10 billion (5 mln tons (production capacity) x 2.50 €/kg (estimated average bio-based polymer price) x 0,8 (capacity utilization rate)).

The most dynamic development is foreseen for drop-in bio-based polymers, but this is closely followed by new bio-based polymers. Drop-in bio-based polymers are chemically identical to their petrochemical counterparts but at least partially derived from biomass. This group is spearheaded by partly bio-based polyethylene terephthalate (PET) whose production capacity was around 600,000 tons in 2013 and is projected to reach about 7 mln tons by 2020, using bio-ethanol from sugar cane. Bio-based PET production is expanding at high rates worldwide, largely due to the Plant PET Technology Collaborative (PTC) initiative launched by The Coca-Cola Company. The second most dynamic development is foreseen for polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), which, contrary to bio-based PET, are new polymers, but still have similar growth rates to those of bio-based PET. Polylactic acid (PLA) and bio-based polyurethanes (PUR) are showing impressive growth as well: their production capacities are expected to almost quadruple between 2013 and 2020.

Most investment in new bio-based polymer capacities will take place in Asia because of better access to feedstock and a favourable political framework. Europe’s share is projected to decrease from 17.3% to 7.6%, and North America’s share is set to fall from 18.4% to 4.3%, whereas Asia’s is predicted to increase from 51.4% to 75.8%. South America is likely to remain constant with a share at around 12%. In other words, world market shares are expected to shift dramatically. Asia is predicted to experience most of the developments in the field of bio-based building block and polymer production, while Europe and North America are slated to lose more than a half and just over three quarters of their shares, respectively. Production capacities in Europe shows the evolution of production capacities in Europe without bio-based thermosets (epoxies and PUR) and cellulose acetate. Europe’s position in producing bio-based polymers is limited to just a few polymers. Europe has so far established a solid position mainly in the field of starch blends and is expected to remain strong in this sector for the next few years. Nevertheless, a number of developments and investments are foreseen in Europe. PLA production capacities, especially starch blend production capacities, are predicted to grow. The growth of these increased production capacities for starch blends can be traced back to Italy’s Novamont, a leading company in this field.
One noteworthy finding of other studies is that Europe shows the strongest demand for biobased polymers, while production tends to take place elsewhere, namely in Asia. In Europe, bio-based polymer production facilities for PLA are not only small in size but also small in number. On the other hand, bio-based PA and CA production is based in Europe and is likely to continue supplying for the growing markets of the building and construction and automotive sectors. Europe does have industrial production facilities for PBAT which is still fully fossil-based. However, judging by industry announcements and the ever-increasing capacity of its biobased precursors, PBAT is expected to be increasingly bio-based, with a projected 50% share by 2020. Housing the leading chemical corporations, Europe is particularly strong and has great potential in the fields of high value fine chemicals and building blocks for the production of inter alia bio-based PA, PUR and thermosets. However, only few specific, large-scale plans for bio-based building blocks incorporating concrete plans for the production of bio-based polymers have been announced to date. The European Union’s relatively weak position in the production of bio-based polymers is largely the consequence of an unfavourable political framework. In contrast to bioenergy and biofuels, there is no European policy framework to support bio-based polymers, whereas bioenergy and biofuels receive strong and ongoing support during commercial production (quotas, tax incentives, green electricity regulations, market introduction programs, etc.). Without comparable support, bio-based chemicals and polymers will suffer further from underinvestment by the private sector. It is currently much safer and much more attractive to invest in bio-based polymers in Asia, South America and even North America.

The packaging industry consumes most petrobased polymers. For bio-based polymers, the same trend can be observed: the major part of this as rigid packaging (bottles for example) and the rest as flexible packaging (films for example). These uses cannot come as a surprise, since bio-based PET is one of the biggest bio-based polymers in terms of capacity and is mostly used for the production of bottles. On the other hand, the packaging industry has a considerable interest in biodegradability since packaging is only needed for short times but in big quantities, which contributes to the accumulation of waste. It should be understood that not all bio-based polymers are biodegradable but some important ones are, e.g. PHA, PLA and starch blends. This feature is also interesting for agriculture and horticulture applications (mulch films for example). However, bio-based polymers are also used in many different other market segments. The order of importance of the market segments is expected to stay approximately the same between 2013 and 2018. Rigid packaging is supposed to keep its first place by growing tremendously with an almost sevenfold growth in only five years. This is again due to the very fast development of bio-based PET. However, the automotive sector is projected to gain faster importance than consumer goods and agriculture sectors. Automotive is actually the second most dynamic after rigid packaging and is followed by electronics, a sector which is still very small, followed by textiles, which is already well established on the global market.


Here are some details on each bio-based polymer covered in the report:
Epoxies are approximately 30% bio-based (only bio-based carbon content2 considered in this report) and are produced out of bio-based epichlorohydrin. The market is well established and is not expected to grow much since epoxies have already long been partly bio-based. Polyurethanes (PUR) can be 10% to 100% biobased. PUR are produced from natural oil polyols (NOP). Bio-based succinic acid can be used to replace adipic acid. The global PUR market (including petro-based PUR) is continuously growing but the bio-based PUR market is expected to grow faster. Cellulose acetate (CA) is 50% bio-based. This market is similar to that of epoxies: well established, for example cigarette filters are made from CA, with small growth. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is currently 20% bio-based and produced out of bio-based monoethylene glycol (MEG) and terephthalic acid (TPA) as a drop-in bio-based polymer. TPA is currently still petro-based but subject to ongoing R&D. Bio-based TPA can be produced at pilot scale. Most bio-based PET and MEG are produced in Asia. Bio-based PET is one of the leaders of the bio-based polymers market and is slated to become the bio-based polymer with the biggest production capacity by far. This is largely due to the Plant PET Technology Collaborative (PTC) initiative launched by The Coca Cola Company. Bio-based epoxies, PUR, CA and PET have huge production capacities with a well established market in comparison with other bio-based polymers. The report shows evolution of worldwide production capacities only for selected biobased polymers (without bio-based epoxies, PUR, CA and PET). Some of these polymers are brand new bio-based polymers. That is why their markets are smaller and need to be developed correspondingly. Polytrimethylene terephthalate (PTT) is 27% bio-based and made out of bio-based 1,3-propanediol (1,3-PDO) and currently petrobased TPA. PTT is similar to PET since both have TPA as precursor. Bio-based PTT and 1,3- PDO are produced by one leading company, DuPont. The market is well established and is not expected to grow much. Polyethylene furanoate (PEF) is 100% biobased and is produced out of bio-based 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (2,5-FDCA) and MEG. PEF is a brand new polymer, which is expected to enter the market in 2017. Just as PTT, PEF is similar to PET. Both PEF and PET are used in bottle production, however PEF is said to have better properties, such as better barrier properties, than PET. Technology company Avantium is heavily involved in the development of PEF and is planning to introduce PEF to the market in 2017. Ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber (EPDM) is made out of bio-based ethylene and can be 50-70% bio-based. Specialty chemicals company Lanxess is currently producing bio-based EPDM in Brazil. The market is small and is not expect to grow in the coming years. Polyethylene (PE) is a 100% bio-based drop-in polymer. The bio-based building block needed is bio-based ethylene, which is made out of sugar cane. Brazilian petrochemical company Braskem produces bio-based PE in Brazil. Bio-based PE has been on the market for a few years but its production capacity has hitherto remained the same. Further developments have been slowed down because of the shale gas boom.
Polybutylene succinate (PBS) is biodegradable and currently mostly fossil-based but could in theory be 100% bio-based. PBS is produced from 1,4-butanediol (1,4-BDO) and succinic acid. Both building blocks are available bio-based but 1,4-BDO is not commercially available yet; this is expected in 2015. PBS is currently produced exclusively in Asia. It is expected to grow and profit from the availability and lower cost of biobased succinic acid. Poly(butylene adipate-co-terephthalate) (PBAT) is also currently mostly fossil-based. PBAT is produced from 1,4-BDO, TPA and adipic acid. PBAT is biodegradable. PBAT can theoretically be up to 50% bio-based since bio-based adipic acid is not available yet. It is still at the research stage. PBAT has mostly been produced by one big company, BASF, but a new player, Jinhui ZhaolongHigh Technology, entered the market and another one, Samsung Fine Chemicals, which has a relatively small production capacity at the moment, is planning to extend its production capacity. Polyamides (PA) are a big family since there are many different types of polyamides. This explains the wide range of bio-based carbon content: from 40% to 100%. Polyamides are generally based on sebacic acid, which is produced from castor oil. Evonik has recently developed a polyamide based on palm kernel oil. The market, which is expected to grow moderately, is headed by one big player, Arkema. Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) are 100% biobased and biodegradable even in cold sea water. PHA are produced through a fermentation process mainly by specific bacteria. Many different companies are involved in the production of PHA. The market is currently very small but is expected to grow tremendously. The joint venture Telles, set by Metabolix and ADM in 2006, aimed at big capacity but hardly sold any PHA and subsequently collapsed in 2012. PHA are brand new polymers, which means their market still needs time to fully develop. Nevertheless PHA producers and several new players are optimistic and see potential in PHA. Therefore, production capacity is expected to have grown tenfold by 2020. Starch blends are completely biodegradable and 25% to 100% bio-based, with starch added to one or several biodegradable polymers. Many players are involved in the production of starch blends but Italian company Novamont is currently market leader. The market is expected to keep on growing, with production capacity projected to double between 2013 and 2020. Polylactic acid (PLA) is 100% bio-based and biodegradable but only under certain conditions: PLA is industrially compostable. Produced by numerous companies worldwide, with NatureWorks as market leader, PLA is the most well established new bio-based polymer. However, the PLA market is still expected to grow further, with a projected fourfold growth between 2013 and 2020. PLA can already be found at near-comparable prices to fossil-based polymers. In short, the most dynamic development is expected for bio-based PET, with a projected production capacity of about 7 million tonnes by 2020. Second in the drop-in polymers group are bio-based polyurethanes. Regardless, new bio-based polymers such as PLA and PHA are showing impressive growth as well: PLA production capacity is expected to almost quadruple and PHA production capacity is expected to grow tenfold between 2013 and 2020. Detailed information on the development of biobased PET and PLA and other polymers can be found in the full report.


(Source Courtsey: nova-Institute:

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