For the second year in succession, intellectual property firm Appleyard Lees has published its Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report 2022. The report analyses patent filings across several key environmental issues, including biopolymers and polymer recycling.
In the area of biodegradable plastics, a clear front-runner has emerged with the sharp spike in global patent applications for butylene-based biopolymers, according to the report.
And in polymer recycling, after almost two decades of decline, technology innovation has re-emerged to reach a worldwide peak of 423 priority patent filings in 2020 – an almost 130% increase on 2018 (186) and the most prolific patent filing year since 2000 (294).
The marked increase seen in companies filing patents for chemical recycling of polymers indicates a ‘huge turnaround in this area of green innovation’, the authors write.
In the current report, the authors look at patent filing trends for the main types of bioplastics produced today: butylene-based polymers, polylactic acid, polyhydroxyalkanoates and starch-based bioplastics. Patent filings in all four types of bioplastics were shown to have risen in recent years, albeit to varying extents. For example, filing numbers for butylene-based polymers were relatively steady until about five years ago, but have experienced a notable upward trend year on year since then. Indeed, butylene-based technology stands out as the leading area of current innovation.
Since 2018, activity among the top five organisations filing patents for butylene-based polymers more than doubled (from 26 to 56 in 2020), with the 2020 number an increase of more than 200% on 2016.
“Patent filings in all types of biopolymers have risen in recent years, though increased activity in butylene-based polymers is notable over the past five years and could offer a valid route for manufacturers, “ noted patent attorney Sarah Gibbs, Senior Associate at Appleyard Lees
Butylene-based polymers (such as polybutylene adipate terephthalate – PBAT) are biodegradable and anticipated to become more important to a bioplastics transition because of their parallel properties to conventional plastics, coupled with their greater capacity for scaling up production.
This includes – in the case of polybutylene succinate (PBS), clarity, processability and flexibility. Innovations and, consequently, patent applications involving butylene-based polymers include improvements to biodegradable packaging and single-use items. Israel’s Tipa Corporation is focusing on such applications by blending PBAT or PBS with other bioplastics such as PLA to combine flexibility and strength. Meanwhile, Japan’s Mitsubishi Group is patenting innovation in tensile strength of PBS by combining it with an acrylic rubber.