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Plastics

Technology Type Group:

Bioplastics have much in common with conventional plastics. Two main characteristics separate bioplastics from conventional plastics: 1) The use of renewable biomass materials in the manufacture of bioplastics. Bioplastics are manufactured from sources such as starch and vegetable oil rather than fossil fuel based plastics which are derived from petroleum. 2) the biodegradability and compostability of bioplastics. Some, but not all, bioplastics are biodegradable or compostable. The aim of the bioplastics industry is to close the production loop, mimicking nature's example (as indicated in the introduction image). Introduction== Most biodegradable bioplastics are used for disposable items such as packaging or organic waste bags. Nondisposable applications include items such as mobile phone casings, carpet fibres and car interiors. In these areas, the goal is not biodegradability, but to create items from sustainable resources.

Initial research into bioplastics started several decades ago. Novel biodegradable bioplastic products have been on the market in Europe for about a decade (European Bioplastics, no date). Mostly, these products are compostable biowaste bags and loose fill. The expansion of production plants for bioplastics resulted in the dynamic development of the market for packaging film since around 2002 (European Bioplastics, no date).

Feasibility of technology and operational necessities

Like with conventional plastics, the application spectrum of bioplastics is very broad. Several applications have already established themselves successfully in important markets. Figure 2 shows several segments of the economy in which bioplastics have already successfully been established. Many of these bioplastic products are being used in areas where compostability is a significant benefit. Commercial success occurs above all when the particular properties can be transformed into useful product functionality and added value (European Bioplastics, no date).

In 2007, global production capacity of bioplastics was estimated to be 0.36 Mt (million metric tonnes), and constituted approx. 0.3 % of the worldwide production of all plastics (PRO-BIB, 2009). Current worldwide production of plastics is dominated by petrochemical plastics. However, the bioplastic market has been experiencing dramatic growth: from 2003 to 2007 the average global growth was 38 % (PRO-BIP, 2009). In Europe, the market even grew with 48 % over the same period (PRO-BIP, 2009).

According to the PRO-BIP study the bioplastics industry is at the beginning of the S-shaped learning curve. Although newly constructed plants are still small, they are rapidly increasing in size. Therefore, it will not be long until turn-key plants with production capacity similar to conventional plastic production plants will be commercially available (PRO-BIP, 2009).

Status of the technology and its future market potential

The total technical substitution potential of bioplastics is estimated to be 270 Mt, or 90 % of the total polymers that were consumed in 2007 (PRO-BIP, 2009). However, it will not be possible to exploit this potential in the short to medium term, according to the study, because of economic barriers, technical scale up challenges and the need for time for the industry to adapt to the new plastics (PRO-BIP, 2009). But the authors of the PRO-BIP study stress that the potential of bioplastics is very large, and that future developments might increase the potential.

Current status of the technology of bioplastics is illustrated in figure 3. It can be seen that the sector is characterized by high growth and strong diversification among different bioplastics. Number of materials, applications and products, number of manufacturers, converters and end users has increased considerably over the last years. In addition, significant financial investments have been made into production and marketing and are expected to be made in the years to come.

How the technology could contribute to socio-economic development and environmental protection

From a geographic point of view, the U.S. and Europe are leading in the bioplastics production (See Figure 4). However, the geographic distribution has changed to a more balanced distribution among the world regions (PRO-BIP, 2009). For instance, the U.S. share of production decreased from 84 % in 2003 to 33 % in 2007. Europe's share increased over the same period from 15 % to 36 %. The Asia-Pacific region and South America have upcoming markets. This development is illustrated in figure 4.

. Based on company announcements, the geograhic distribution is expected to further balance out over the regions of the world (PRO-BIP, 2009). Figure 5 illustrates the estimated geograhic distribution per world region in 2020 based on the company announcements (PRO-BIP, 2009). A long and sustained growth trajectory of production and demand for plastics is expected in the developing world (PRO-BIP, 2009).

Next to the advantages of conventional plastic (such as being lightweight and multifunctional) bioplastics have certain other advantages that can contribute to socio-economic development and environmental protection. Because bioplastics are made from renewable resources the use of fossil resources is limited. In addition, the biodegradable aspect of some of the bioplastics can be useful in developing countries with arid conditions where the soil lacks humus. Composting the plastics would provide fertiliser and substrate to improve the soil quality (European bioplastics, no date). Moreover, the biodegradability of bioplastics reduces the stress on landfills.==Climate== Currently, no CDM projects have been registered by the CDM Executive Board that address the shift from the production of conventional plastics to bioplastics. As noted, such a shift would prevent the emissions of GHG as bioplastics are produced from a renewable resource. As of July 2010, no CDM methodology exists that would support the shift in production from petrochemical based plastic production to bioplastics.

However, there are certain situations in which a project could potentially apply for CDM status. For instance, when the biomass used for the production of the bioplastics is derived from biomass waste streams the project would prevent GHG emissions as it prevents the biomass decay. The following methodology might be suitable in this situation: 'Avoided emissions from biomass wastes through use as feed stock in pulp and paper production or in bio-oil production --- Version 2.2'. This methodology assists in the calculation of the avoided emissions because of the prevention of the decay.

Financial requirements and costs

Because petrochemical based plastics have been developed and used extensively for over seventy years they are relatively cheap compared to bioplastivs. While there are a number of bioplastics with great potential, and unique features, to compete in a wide range of applications currently dominated by petrochemical based plastics, certain barriers still exist that prevent this from happening. Ideally, to compete, a bioplastics should be environmentally sustainable, inexpensive and functionally equivalent to conventional plastics. Usually bioplastics are both environmentally friendly and sustainable, but they are still relatively expensive and they can't replace petrochemical based plastics in some applications (Barker & Safford, 2009).

Currently, bioplastics are two to four times more expensive than conventional plastics (Barker & Safford, 2009). Barker and Safford identify several reasons for this: 1) there is a high cost for the plant production, 2) a high cost of the raw materials used, 3) the current smale scale of production doesn't provide economies of scale, and 4) the research and development costs of bioplastcs are high (Barker & Safford, 2009).

The price of conventional plastics is linked to the price trend of oil, as byproducts of the petroleum industry are key ingredients for production of plastic (Barker & Safford, 2009). Because bioplastics are based on another resource bioplastics are not linked to the fluctuating oil price. Bioplastics are therefore not accompanied by the high price volatility of oil. According to the European Bioplastics organization current economic competetiveness of bioplastics is restricted by high development costs and lack of economies of scale for mass production. Mass production of bioplastics is expected to increase economic competetiveness. As can be seen from figure 2, and from the statement that it is likely that bioplastics production is at the beginning of the S-curve, it seems likely that economies of scale will be reached in the near future. In addition, forecasts on the development of crude oil prices illustrate that rising oil prices will make use of renewable resources increasingly economical in the future (European Bioplastics, 2009).

References

  • Barker, M., & Safford, S., (2009). Industrial uses for crops: Markets for bioplastics. Project report 450: HGCA. Retrieved on 16 July 2010 from: [[1]]
  • European Bioplastics, no date. The association European Bioplastics, based in Berlin, website: [[2]]
Collection:

Plastics

  • Tal-Ya Water resources management

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    Tal-Ya is a new Israeli company that develops innovative water saving solutions for row-crop agriculture vineyards forestry and the municipal gardening sectors. Collecting and using DEW together with more efficient use of irrigated water represents savings of up to 90% irrigated water. Square cover over a plant’s root system and the surrounding soil (replaces traditional plastic mulch) collects dew during the night and prevents evaporation during the day directing all water to one single point- the root system. Irrigated water is directed more efficiently to the right spot.

  • A Composition and a Method for Preparing PLA with Improved Performance Characteristics

    Type: 
    Product
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    There is a growing trend in the plastics industry towards utilizing sustainable materials and processes for polymer production. This trend is driven by social political economical and environmental concerns motivating a desire to lessen dependency on petroleum-derived products. Polylactic acid (PLA) is growing rapidly in popularity as an alternative to petrochemical-based plastics. It is biodegradable thermoplastic and derived from renewable resources.

  • High performance composite solution-processed transparent conductors

    Type: 
    Product
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    Researchers in Prof. Peter Peumans’ laboratory have developed a low-cost flexible composite material that could be used as an alternative to indium-tin oxide (ITO) for transparent conducting films in solar cells displays and other optoelectronic devices. This material is fabricated with a solution-based process to create a nanowire mesh embedded in an organic polymer. The film has transparency and conductivity comparable to ITO but can be produced at much lower cost and has much higher yield strain to enable flexible thin-film applications.

  • Biodegradable Plastic Made from Plant Materials

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    Product
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    InventionThe University of Florida is seeking companies interested in commercializing a new bioplastic that is more environmentally friendly than plastics made from petrochemicals. Most plastics are produced from crude oil or natural gas disappearing resources that will continue to rise in price in the long term. One common petroplastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) accounts for about 18 percent of world polymer production.

  • Method to Produce Sorbic Acid and Pentadiene from Renewable Biostock

    Type: 
    Product
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    Background: Sorbic acid has been used extensively as a preservative in a vast array of food. The benefits of sorbates as food preservatives are two-fold: sorbates inhibit a wide spectrum of bacteria yeasts and molds and they have extremely low toxicity. Several protocols for producing sorbic acid and sorbates are known. However the most common method of producing commercial quantities requires a decomposition step that yields unwanted colored byproducts. Multiple purification steps are required to yield product that is food grade or better.

  • Flexible Dye Sensitized Solar Cells Photoanodes and Flexible Solar Cell Construction Methods

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    Rutgers researchers have formulated aqueous slurries of nanosized titanium dioxide which can be annealed at low temperature. Annealing is an important step in the fabrication of dye sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) but usually is done at 450oC. Such elevated temperature is energy consuming and forbids the use of plastic flexible substrates. Organic solvents are also used which can have an impact on the environment. In our process water is used as the solvent and a small amount of acid (H2SiF6) enables particle connection at low temperature (150oC).

  • Device Structure for High Efficiency LED

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    Product
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    Technology summary: A novel device structure that reduces light absorption inside the LED enables uniform light emission from the active layer and reduces light reflections occurring repeatedly inside the LED thus increasing the overall efficiency. Need: Current methods of improving efficiency in nitride LED systems such as the use of a thin nickel gold or zinc oxide layer growth to produce transparent electrodes lack the surface feature shaping capabilities needed to optimize light extraction.

  • Method and Electrocatalyst to Efficiently Produce Hydrogen Fuel over a Broad Acidic pH Range

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    Background: The desire to store renewable energy such as solar or wind energy in the form of hydrogen gas which could substitute for non-renewable fossil fuels is driving the development of effective water oxidation catalysts. Existing technologies that generate oxygen and hydrogen are inefficient and commercially impractical. The electrolytic production of hydrogen involves the transfer of four protons and four electrons with the formation of an oxygen-oxygen bond and the high energy barrier associated with this transfer makes the reaction particularly challenging.

  • Halogen-Free Flame Retardant Materials

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    Background: Enzyme-mediated polymerizations as a new biotechnological methodology in the synthesis of new classes of FR materials with environmental compatibility unsurpassed efficiency and economy in synthesis stability and processing. Flame retardant (FR) additives are an important class of materials that have been used extensively to mitigate this serious deficiency of polymers. Halogenated materials account for about 30% (by weight) of all FR produced globally.

  • Flexible Germanium Lateral PIN Diodes and 3-D Arrays for Photodetector Applications

    Type: 
    Product

    Background: Flexible single-crystalline semiconductors used in high-performance micro- and macro-electronics have been intensely studied in recent years. Thin-film transistors using single crystalline silicon gallium arsenide and gallium nitride on plastic substrates have been developed to maintain the beneficial properties of plastics (bendable light weight and shock resistant) while also maintaining the high-performance characteristics of transistors (high carrier mobility and multi-gigahertz operation capability).