A new market study published jointly by European Bioplastics and the European Polysaccharide Network of Excellence (EPNOE) at Utrecht University estimates it is technically possible to replace up to 90% of today’s polymer consumption with bio-based alternatives.
The authors of the Project Overview and Market Prediction of Emerging Bio-Based Polymers Study emphasise, however, that this is a technical judgement and not a market prediction.
"Bio-based plastics will not substitute oil-based polymers in the near future for several reasons including low oil price, high production cost and restricted production capacity of biomass-based polymers", said Patrick Navard, chairman of the governing board of EPNOE.
The study’s authors point out that the bio-based plastics industry must also address the poor performance of some bio-based materials as well as limiting agricultural land usage to avoid competition with food production and a resulting negative impact on biodiversity and the environment.
The study considers bio-based polymers such as cellulose and polylactic acid as well as starch-based blends and the newly emerging bio-based versions of conventional polymers such as PE, PP, PVC, PET, and PA.
The report calculates that, based on recent company announcements, the production capacity of these bio-based plastics would be expected to reach around 2.3m tonnes by 2013, up from 360,000 tonnes in 2007. However, the financial crisis means several key projects have been delayed.
European Bioplastics managing director Hasso van Pogrell said: "We should keep a close eye on these figures. Important major projects were delayed in the years 2008 and 2009 due to the financial and economic crisis.”
The 227-page study attempts to manage this uncertainty by developing three potential future growth strategies for bio-based plastics based on baseline, optimistic and conservative estimates.