A new Market with Biopolymers

form 231
March/April 2010


Birkhäuser (Basel)

Bioplastics Biowert - Graskunststoffe

At the moment, the market for biodegradable plastics is still clear. This is set to change as crude oil increases in value. Foams made of castor oil, biodegradable tableware of potato starch, plastics reinforced with carrot fiber. All of them use bio materials – a group of materials that has recently grown quite meteorically. Admittedly, the market for compostable bio plastics is still modest with a worldwide production capacity of around 400,000 tons, but by the year 2020 annual growth rates of 25 to 30 percent are expected. In other words, according to these estimates production capacity will expand to roughly 3 million tons a year.

Over the long term there will be no further use for crude oil as the basis for manufacturing plastics. The packaging industry is making the running, shopping bags made from renewable raw materials can already be had at every supermarket checkout. Take producer Alesco; the company supplies compostable fruit and vegetable bags, freezer bags, tubular films and shrink-wrap based on granulates (manufactured say by bioplastics maker FKuR), and prints them using technologies with a low environmental impact. But the material is no longer only limited to recyclable packaging: The biodegradable plastics, which FKuR has developed in recent years with the Fraunhofer Institut UMSICHT, is also suitable for producing components by extrusion, blistering or injection molding (Bio-Flex®, Biograd-e®). Developers at DuPont in Neu-Isenburg are working on the deployment of bioplastics in technical applications: They have already brought to market plastics based on corn starch trading under the names Biomax® and Sorona®, whose properties make them serious competitors for PBT or PET.

The company Biowert in Brensbach (Hesse) demonstrates that sustainable production not only means producing renewable plastics but is also about sustainable energy needed for material production in the first place: In their grass refining plant damp, fibrated biomass is processed into a compound granulate free of chemical additives that can be injection molded. It consists 50 to 75 percent of cellulose fibers and 25 to 50 percent of polyethylene or polypropylene. What makes it so special: the required energy is supplied by an adjoining biogas plant that uses waste products from the refining plant.

image source: Biowert