A new study from the European Bioplastics and the European Polysaccharide Network of Excellence (EPNOE) estimated that substitution potential of up to 90% of the total consumption of plastics by bio-based polymers are technically possible.
Still, that estimate will not be fulfilled in the near future because of low oil price, high production costs and restricted production capacity of biomass-based polymers, researchers of the study concluded.
2007 global bioplastic capacity (at 360,000 metric tonnes) is said to be only 0.3% of the global plastic production, which is dominated by petrochemical plastics. The bioplastic market, however, experienced a 38% growth rate from 2003 to 2007. European growth rate was said to be as high as 48%.
Standard polymers like polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC or PET, as well as high-performance polymers like polyamide or polyester have already been been totally or partially substituted by their renewable raw materials equivalents.
Based on recent company announcements the production capacity of bio-based plastics is projected to increase from 360,000 tons in 2007 to about 2.3 million tons by 2013, corresponding to an annual growth of 37%.
"Important major projects were delayed in the years 2008 and 2009 due to the financial and economic crisis. Despite the still uncertain data, we deem such studies to be very essential. The role that lightweight conventional plastics played in the past, substituting durable materials like iron and steel in vast products, could soon be taken over by bio-based plastics. As the study shows, the potential is enormous," says Hasso von Pogrell, Managing Director of European Bioplastics.The study estimates that if the overall bioplastic industry grows under a 'business-as-usual' condition, the 2020 market will reach 2.94 million MT. In a low growth rate scenario, half of the total capacity announced for 2013 will not be implemented even by 2020. On the other hand, a high growth scenario will see total installed capacity in 2020 to increase nearly twice as much as capacity announced for 2013, according to the study.
The study has a lot of good information about starch plastics, cellulosic polymers, polylactic acid (PLA) polymers, PTT from biobased propanediol, biobased polyamides, polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), biobased polyethylene and PVC from bio-PE, and other emerging biobased thermoplastics.
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