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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

  • Nanoenergetic Materials and Uses Thereof

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    This invention involves applications of the released energy from the self propagation of combustion of nanosynthesized thermites. One area of application is in the semiconductor industry for example in the crystallization of amorphous materials such as amorphous silicon thin film doping of various semiconductor materials and the formation of exotic alloys. Nano synthesized thermites also called MIC produces a shock wave and localized heat which can be used to enhance the process of crystallization.

  • Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) Photocatalysts for Water Purification

    Type: 
    Product

    Summary: More and more chemicals of various origins are being discharged into our local water streams ending up at waste and water treatment facilities. These chemicals comprising of pharmaceuticals personal care products and other various industrial chemicals are currently not removed by typical wastewater treatment practices. Further current regulations from the Food and Drug Administration do not require testing or removing these chemicals even as their amounts aggregate in our drinking water.

  • Using UV Light to Functionalize Metal Oxides for Use in Biosensors Solar Cells and Other Devices

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    Functionalized substrates have commercial applications ranging from biosensors to energy conversion devices such as solar cells. Biosensors rapidly detect the presence of target biomolecules based on known interactions between the analytes and other biomolecules immobilized on a substrate. However existing technologies for immobilizing biomolecules are limited by poor repeatability and instability resulting in increased manufacturing costs and short shelf life. Oxide materials particularly TiO2 often are used in energy conversion devices.

  • Photo Reversible Reusable Polymers

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    The limitation is that most plastics cannot be recycled or reused to form the same object due to degradation of chemical structure. The need is for novel technologies that would enable plastics to be recycled or reused over and over again to reform the same object or objects of similar composition without losing its chemical properties (i.e. becoming weaker) e.g. the plastic material used for a cellphone casing can be reformed into another cellphone casing rather than turned into a plastic bag.

  • Modified Metabolic Pathways in E. coli for Improved Succinate Production

    Type: 
    Product
    Objective:
    Technology:

    Background: Succinate is presently manufactured in an expensive process from petrochemicals. Though researchers have previously managed to produce succinate using metabolic pathways none of these methods have approached the product yield of nonrenewable sources. As a result petroleum-based production methods – dependent upon fluctuations in oil prices - have dominated the market. Technology Description: This invention is a process that reconstructs the metabolic pathways of a modified E. coli strain to increase production yields of succinate.

  • Self-Contained Mobile Electrically Powered Methanol Synthesis Plant

    Type: 
    Product
    Objective:

    The primary synthesis product is methanol an alcohol with chemical and physical properties that are nearly identical to ethanol. The means to synthesize carbon-neutral fuels is designed to be self-contained easily transportable and may be operated at existing sites that emit carbon dioxide (e.g. fermentation plants) and/or sites with abundant (renewable) low cost electricity which may be used to disassociate water in order to obtain the requisite hydrogen. The plant consumes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or carbon dioxide destined to be emitted into the atmosphere (e.g.

  • Fabrication and Characterization of Biodegradable PLA-Zeolite Composites

    Type: 
    Product
    Objective:
    Technology:

    Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) enhances quality extends the shelf life of perishable foods and prevents loss revenues due to food spoilage. MAP is required because the balance and interaction of certain gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and oxygen with packaged foods contributes to either poor or high food quality. Advances in packaging materials and systems that enable more control of the quantities of gases for food and pharmaceutical packaging applications are beneficial.

  • Modified yeast fermenting biomass xylose

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    Background: Producing biofuel on a useful scale requires efficient fermentation of cellulosic plant material. The sugars glucose and xylose are the most abundant carbohydrates found in hemicellulose. The yeast most commonly utilized for industrial fermentation – Saccharomyces cerevisiae – can ferment glucose but not xylose. By studying the genomes of wild strains of yeast capable of utilizing both sugars researchers hope to identify genes capable of enhancing fermentation. The ultimate goal is to create a genetically modified ‘super-strain’ ideal for industrial ethanol production.

  • Photocatalytic Water Treatment Device

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    Background: Drinking water must be treated to remove organic contaminants such as pathogenic microorganisms and inorganic contaminants such as heavy metals. Technology Description: UW-Madison researchers have developed a water treatment cartridge that removes both inorganic and organic contaminants from water through the process of photocatalysis. Their device makes use of titanium dioxide a ceramic material known to oxidize and thus destroy pathogenic microorganisms and complex organic molecules in the presence of ultraviolet light.

  • Chemical Reactions for Producing Polyesters and Polyamides from Recycled and Naturally Occurring Starting Materials

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    Summary: The University of Florida is seeking companies interested in commercializing chemical reactions that convert naturally occurring oligomers and polymers into functionalized materials for commercial use. This technology recycles the polymer components of chemicals such as polybutadiene polyisoprene and naturally occurring oils and converts them into other useful synthetic polymers including polyamides and polyesters.