JUNE 2010

Innovation drives new bio-based plastics applications

Improvements in product performance and an expanding product range continue to propel bio-based plastics into new and high-growth applications despite the challenges posed by the economic downturn and resulting price sensitivity of customers. The global bioplastics market has reached a critical juncture in its growth phase, with a large number of companies now focusing on transitioning from laboratory and pilot scale to full-fledged commercialization.

New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, Global Bio-based Plastics Market, found that the market earned revenues of euro 570.6 million in 2008, and estimates this to reach euro 1.1 billion in 2015.

“The move towards sustainability in key end user markets for plastics will continue to drive the demand for sustainable bio-based plastics,” noted Frost & Sullivan’s Performance Materials Industry Principal, Dr. Brian Balmer. “The ever increasing product mix in bio-based plastics will ensure that a wide range of applications is made available for bio-based plastics to capitalize upon.”

Plastics are expanding into newer areas that were traditionally catered to by engineering plastics like polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) and acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS). This was made possible by significant improvements in the production methods and additives in bio-based plastics, opening up new avenues of growth for bio-based plastics.

The development in bio-based commodity and technical plastics will pave the way for bioplastics to expand into two different ends of the performance scale. While bio-based commodity plastics will accelerate the growth of bioplastics in packaging and similar applications, the growth in technical bio-based plastics will enable expansion into automotive, electronic and consumer goods applications.

The main challenges facing the bio-based plastics market in the short term stem from the impact of the economic slump, which will make funding of major project expansions complex. However, in the long term, the challenges are more structural, such as enhancing the recycling infrastructure as well as technical properties for bioplastics.

“The recession has seen some of the major expansion and market entry projects suffer setbacks,” explained Dr. Balmer. “Although, sufficient capacity is currently available for most of the bio-based plastic types, future market growth will mainly depend on crucial capacity additions taking place according to schedule.”

Partnership with key market participants will be critical to long-term success in the rapidly growing bio-based plastics market. For example, partnership with major chemical companies will ensure that bio-based plastic producers with a predominantly agricultural background will gain rapid access to critical technology and market development capabilities.

“Bioplastic suppliers should focus on improving product performance and the depth of their product range if they are to succeed in the rapidly evolving markets for bio-based plastics,” concluded Dr. Balmer. “End users need to be made aware of the various alternatives available in bio-based plastics, with a clear definition of the performance and end-of-life characteristics of each of these bio-based plastics.”