20 Juni 2014

TOP Wageningen UR: New boost for research and development in biobased performance materials

Biobased Performance Materials program secures 4 more years of funding

Some three to six million euros will be available in the Netherlands for research and development into biobased performance materials (BPM) over the next four years. The team in charge of the Top Sector for Chemicals (defined by the Dutch government as an investment priority) has approved a continuation of the BPM R&D programme which is currently coordinated by Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research.

Funding of three million euros for the new programme will come from the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Next to that, the BPM project office will apply for a 3 million euro grant with the Dutch organisation for scientific research (NWO). This application focuses on support of a specific basic research programme into biobased materials. Dutch companies will provide 35% of the funding. Biobased performance materials, such as bioplastics for packaging, biobased building materials, resins, textiles and carpeting, represent a sustainable alternative to plastics made from fossil fuels.

The first projects in the Biobased Performance Materials (BPM) programme will end this year. The programme currently brings together Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research with more than 30 industrial partners and five research institutions. The results from the ongoing projects were presented at a symposium on 12 June. Where the focus of current projects was on materials from biobased building blocks, the programme will, in future, also expressly focus on the development of materials based on natural polymers such as starch, cellulose and chitin. There will also be extra focus on bringing together research in the Netherlands in the field of biobased materials to facilitate maximum interaction between the private sector and research institutes.

Worldwide growth

The interest in the private sector for biobased materials is increasing rapidly. A recent study by the nova-Institute from Germany shows that the global market for biobased materials is expected to be 3.5 times larger in 2020 compared to now. Major raw materials such as bio-PET, bio-PE/PP, PLA and PHA are produced throughout the world. The Netherlands is exceptionally well placed to carry out the production and processing of these materials into bioplastics thanks to its many companies in this sector, including Synbra, Avantium, Rodenburg, Cosun, and multinationals such as Croda, Corbion-Purac and DSM. In addition, the Netherlands is home to specialist knowledge in various research institutes. The interest of buyers of plastics such as Océ and Heinz in biobased materials is growing rapidly. The materials can be used in the packaging, electronics and automotive industries, ensuring significant gains in sustainability for these sectors.

Impulse towards a biobased economy

The design of the BPM programme is unique as it comprises basic research by universities and applied research in cooperation with companies, while aligning both types of research. Taking as the starting point the needs in materials and the wishes of customers (businesses and consumers), biobased materials are studied and tested by universities (basic research) and applied research institutes. The continuation of the BPM programme will give a significant boost to developments in the Dutch biobased economy, which is focused on the use of biomass with high added value.

Continued development of biobased materials

The first BPM programme developed biobased alternatives for new classes of polymeric materials. Materials and products made of bioplastics, such as films, bottles and resins, were designed and tested in cooperation with the private sector. Although not all the materials were found to have the same essential characteristics as their fossil counterparts, significant progress was made. These and other biobased materials will be further developed in the follow-up programme. Another point of focus is research into the unique properties of biobased materials, such as the improved shelf life of food in biobased packaging.

Submission of project proposals

Projects involving cooperation between companies and research institutes can be submitted from this point on. Grants will be decided based on demand and under the supervision of the BPM project office. Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research will coordinate the applied research while the basic research will be coordinated by the Dutch Polymer Institute (DPI). Companies and research institutes interested in participating in projects can contact the BPM project office.

Source: Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research, press release, 2014-06-16.

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