According to Report Insights, the biodegradable plastics market was worth 7.65 billion USD in 2022 and is projected to exceed 22.12 billion USD by 2030. While the appetite for plastics made from natural feedstocks is increasing, what can we expect for the future of bioplastic research?
Dr Ashlee Jahnke, head of research and development at plastic substitute specialist Teysha Technologies, discusses common problems with bioplastics and how recent innovations in biodegradability will shape our future.
Many commercial developments show promising results and improvements in the technologies used to produce bio-based materials. For example, ABB has set out to automate NatureWorks’ bioplastics plant in Thailand, which could improve production throughput and help accelerate consumer uptake in bioplastics. What’s more, continued research has led to new and innovative products, such as the Röchling Group’s latest sustainable bioplastics, Röchling-BioBoom and Röchling-ReLoop, which are manufactured using renewable raw materials like cellulose.
While this is certainly commendable progress expected to strengthen the sustainability of recycled materials and bioplastics, questions remain over just how sustainable some bioplastics truly are. For example, many bio-based plastics still use petroleum-derived plasticiser additives to give them mechanical properties akin to traditional plastics.
Not only does this continue to rely on the availability of fossil fuels, it also greatly affects the material’s biodegradability and environmental impacts. These materials will still require industrial processing to be recycled or broken down, potentially involving energy-intensive processes like catalytic pyrolysis. It’s important that future innovations tackle these issues so that the entire lifecycle of a bio-material can be considered truly sustainable. With this in mind, what can we expect from future bioplastic research?