Berlin/Paris - A new study on bio-based plastics forecasts a potential for worldwide production of about 3 million tonnes of bioplastics by 2020, and also says it is technically possible that up to 90 percent of total consumption of plastics could be substituted by bio-based polymers.
The study, by Martin Patel, Li Shen and Juliane Haufe from Utrecht University, notes that that the rate of substitution will depend on a multitude of factors.
Bio-based polymers have been available in the market for about a decade, and include polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC or PET, but also high-performance polymers such as polyamide or polyester have been totally or partially substituted by renewable raw materials. And of course in polyurethanes, much work has been carried out on natural oil polyols to partially replace those derived from petroleum.
The study was commissioned by the European Bioplastics Association and the European Polysaccharide Network of Excellence EPNOE.
"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 that limit the technically possible growth of these plastics in the coming years," commented Patrick Navard, chairman of the EPNOE board, in a recent announcement on the study.
Based on recent company announcements the production capacity of bio-based plastics is projected to increase from 360 kilotonnes in 2007 to about 2.3 million tonnes by 2013. This corresponds to an annual growth of 37 percent.
"We should keep a close eye on these figures," said Hasso von Pogrell, managing director of European Bioplastics.
Von Pogrell notes that important major projects were delayed in 2008-2009 due to the financial and economic crisis. Despite the uncertain data, such studies are essential, he said. "The role that lightweight conventional plastics played in the past, substituting durable materials like iron and steel in vast products, could soon be taken over by bio-based plastics. As the study shows, the potential is enormous," added von Pogrell.
Three scenarios were used for future growth trajectories: a baseline scenario plus optimistic and conservative ones (see chart). The study confirms that substantial technological progress has been made in bio-based plastics in the past five years. Innovations in material and product development, environmental benefits as well as the gradual depletion of crude oil increasingly call for polymers made from renewable raw materials, the announcement says.