The total global production of bio-based plastics will increase from current levels of 700,000-800,000 tonnes per annum to “hit the million tonne market” within a few years, Michael Carus, managing director of the Nova-Institut, said at a bioplastics conference in the Netherlands last week.
Manufacturers are increasingly turning towards bio materials not only to reduce C02 (current emission reductions are on average 20-30%), but also to save fossil resources, Carus said at the Biobased Based Materials Symposium, held in Wageningen, the Netherlands, 21 June.
Although bioplastics only account for a small percentage of the overall polymers market, Carus estimates their share at 7.7% - higher than normal estimates.
“When we talk about bioplastics and bioproducts, we can also think about elastomers, man-made fibres, even some sustainable rubber products,” he said. “These can all help with sustainability.”
Carus quoted meta-analysis of life cycle assessments (LCAs) carried out by the Nova Institute on behalf of Proganic, which revealed that the biggest greenhouse gas emission savings can be found when comparing bio-based polymers to polycarbonate (PC). For PLA, the average savings amount to 4.7 ± 1.5kg CO2 equivalents per kg of plastic. For PHA the averages savings potential amounts to 5.8 ± 2.7kg, and for PET and PS the savings range from between 2.5 and 4.2kg. The lowest savings are to be found when comparing bio-based polymers to PP.
In 2010, bio PE accounted for the largest share of the biopolymers market (28% of total production capacity), followed by starch blends (16%), PLA (15%), PHA (12%) and bio polyesters (8%).
One of the fastest growing types of material is wood plastic composite (WPCs) and the European market has been growing at an average annual rate of 35% since 2005, said Carus.
Further WPC growth is expected in every sector in the coming years and will be helped, he added, by rising plastics prices.