Natural PHAs are a class of materials that exist in nature for over millions of years. However, their potential as a family of bio-based, biodegradable, polyesters has only started to be explored in recent decades.
Natural PHAs are produced by a wide variety of microorganisms through bacterial fermentation, and feature a number of very desirable properties including high performance, biocompatibility and biodegradability. The PHA family has a large design space and accommodates a wide range of market applications, as a broad variety of different polymers can be produced and blended.
PHAs have enormous potential, writes PHA expert Jan Ravenstijn, the author of “Mimicking Nature – The PHA Industry Landscape. Latest trends and 28 producer profiles”. These polymers have been intensively researched for many years. Developments have not run a smooth course: there have been highs and lows over the last 20 years, with several expansions and scale-up plans having been postponed or even cancelled. The reasons are myriad: the challenges of technology scale-up, product and application development needs, underestimating how much time it takes for a new polymer-platform to penetrate the market and the time it takes for previously unconnected disciplines to understand each other for the benefit of successfully addressing all opportunities.
Now, however, this new polymer platform is rapidly gaining traction.
At the end of 2021, there was an installed manufacturing capacity of about 48 kt/annum up and running, based on the information - current per February 2022 - from the companies described in the ‘Mimicking Nature’ report.
Capacity expansions have been announced and there are numerous plants under construction. Together, the manufacturers aim for a manufacturing capacity of about 570 kt/annum by 2027
The majority of companies included in the report are or were start-ups when they commenced their natural PHA activities. Only six companies are already well established in the market.