Natureworks’ compostable PLA polymer is attracting attention from retailers and brand owners alike, but the company is struggling to scale up production to meet market demands.
That was the clear message from packaging producers coming out of the 8th Bioplastics conference, organised by European Plastics News in Frankfurt last week. “Material availability is a big issue,” said Andrew Osborne-Smith, managing director of Anson Packaging in the United Kingdom. “For all the projects we have launched in PLA we have developed a PET product alongside in case we can’t get material.”
Autobar Group sales and marketing director John Oakley told delegates that roll out of its Veriplast division’s range of PLA disposables has been “held back” because of PLA supply shortages. And Coopbox Europe packaging systems R&D manager Cesare Vannini said growth of the company’s foamed PLA tray business is being slowed by uncertainty over PLA availability.
Data on bioplastics consumption is difficult to obtain but sector observers estimate current annual PLA global market volumes at less than 40,000 tonnes.
The NatureWorks plant at Blair, in Nebraska in the US, is the sole volume production source for PLA resin. With its claimed 140,000 tonne capacity it should be more than capable of meeting current PLA requirements. However, four years after first start up, the unit still suffers capacity challenges.
“Our Blair plant’s name-plate capacity is at 140,000 tonnes a year. We are working to produce at that capacity and every day are learning about the hurdles and challenges of managing a state-of-the-art and new to the world manufacturing facility on a 24/7 basis,” a company spokesperson told PRW.com.
The company says ongoing process optimisation will see output grow during 2007 and into 2008, but that this will only meet already contracted orders. No timeline has been set for a second plant.
Source: PRW vom 2006-12-12.