14 Juli 2010

Bioplastics consumption to reach 2 mln tons by 2018

Western Europe was the largest regional market for bioplastics in 2008

Bioplastics, with consumption of only just above 225,000 tons in 2008 will reach a level of about 900,000 tons by 2013. Global demand for bioplastics, which include plastic resins that are biodegradable or derived from plant-based sources, will rise more than fourfold to 890,000 tons in 2013, as per Freedonia. This extraordinary growth will be fueled by a number of factors, including consumer demand for more environmentally-sustainable products, the development of bio-based feedstocks for commodity plastic resins and increasing restrictions on the use of plastic products, particularly plastic bags. Most importantly, however, will be the expected continuation of high crude oil and natural gas prices, which will allow bioplastics to become more cost-competitive with petroleum-based resins. Looking ahead to 2018, world bioplastics demand is forecast to reach nearly 2 mln tons, with a market value of over US$5 billion.

Biodegradable plastics, such as starch based resins, polylactic acid and degradable polyesters, accounted for the vast majority (nearly 90%) of bioplastics demand in 2008. Double-digit gains are expected to continue going forward, fueled in part by the emergence of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) such as MIREL resins from Telles, on the commercial market. However, non biodegradable plant-based plastics will be the primary driver of bioplastics demand. In the next few years, Dow Chemical and Braskem are each planning to open plants in Brazil that will produce polyethylene from bio-based ethanol. Other firms are expected to open bio-based polyvinyl chloride and polypropylene facilities. As a result, demand for non-biodegradable plant-based plastics will increase from just 23,000 tons in 2008 to nearly 600,000 tons in 2013.

Western Europe was the largest regional market for bioplastics in 2008, accounting for about 40% of world demand. Bioplastics sales in the region benefit from strong consumer demand for biodegradable and plant-based products, a regulatory environment that favors bioplastics over petroleum resins, and an extensive infrastructure for composting. Going forward, however, more rapid growth in demand will be found in the Asia/Pacific region, which will become the equal of the West European market by 2013.

Gains will be stimulated by strong demand in Japan, which has focused intently on the replacement of petroleum based plastics. Other world regions, such as Latin America and Eastern Europe, will see stellar gains in bioplastics demand from a very small 2008 base. Currently, world bioplastics production is heavily concentrated in the developed countries of North America, Western Europe and Japan. This will change dramatically by 2013, as China is expected to open over 100,000 tons of new bioplastics capacity. Furthermore, once the planned bio-based polyethylene and polyvinyl chloride plants come online, Brazil will become the world’s leading producer of bioplastics in 2018.

Shopping bags, fast-food utensils, and garbage sacks that decompose into compost after use: bioplastics are not only environmentally-friendly, but they can also be economically advantageous as per Ceresna Research. They improve image, flourish despite economic crises, and are practical even without a surge in oil prices. Expectations for bioplastics are vast- a better image for plastics, independence from petroleum products, solutions for waste problems, contributions to environmental protection, as well as a new source of income for the agricultural sector. However, the characteristics and potentials of different bioplastics vary substantially – accordingly, there is a high demand for information.

Plastics made from renewable materials and biodegradable polymers are rapidly catching up. Bioplastics are already unbeatable in certain, special applications – for example, medical implants, which dissolve in the body, or compostable mulch films for agriculture. As a result of remarkable advances in development, bioplastics are also increasingly capable of replacing common, standard polymers. Packaging materials constitute the most important application area for bioplastics; for example, filler materials that are utilized in very large amounts. Supermarkets are increasingly offering compostable shopping bags.

However, the largest growth rates, concerning the application of bioplastics, are seen in the automotive and electronics industries – for instance in consoles or cellular phone cases. During the past 8 years alone, consumption of biodegradable plastics based on starch, sugar, and cellulose (up so far the most important raw materials) has increased by 600%. Starch-based plastics currently dominate in Europe, and polylactic acid is considered to be particularly promising.

Source: plastemart.com, 2010-07-14.

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