Plastic Stretches Towards the New: Top 10 Trendlines in Bioplastics

September 6, 2017 |

The Plant Bottle has generated so much goodwill and publicity for its 30% renewable, sustainable content (and that biobased MEG) that it’s easy to forget that there are several paths being chased to 100% renewable clear plastic bottles by numerous partners, and there are a wide swath of plastics where renewables can play a role.

What’s the promise, who’s making progress? And when, where, how, and costing how much? Challenges are abundant but the chemistry is powerful and the tipping-point may well arrive soon. Today, we go through the  Top 10 Trendlines that have emerged in the headlines.

#1: Avantium completes IPO, Synvina project steams ahead

In June, we reported that €25 million was granted to “PEFerence,” a consortium consisting of 11 companies including Synvina, Avantium, BASF,  Tereos Participations (France), Alpla Werke Alwin Lehner (Austria), OMV Machinery (Italy) and Croda Nederland. (The Netherlands), Nestec (Switzerland) Lego System (Denmark), Nova-Institut für politische und ökologische Innovation (Germany) and Spinverse Innovation Management (Finland).

The partners will jointly work on establishing an innovative supply chain for FDCA and PEF, including the intended construction of a 50,000 tons reference plant in Antwerp. Synvina will be coordinating the “PEFerence” project.

As background, FDCA is the essential chemical building block for the production of PEF. Compared to conventional plastics, PEF is characterized by improved barrier properties for gases like carbon dioxide and oxygen. This can lead to longer shelf life of packaged products. Due to its higher mechanical strength, thinner PEF packaging can be produced, thus a lower amount of packaging material is necessary. Therefore PEF is particularly suitable for the production of certain food and beverage packaging, for example films and plastic bottles. After use, PEF can be recycled.

The story was based in many ways on the news in March that Avantium completed its highly-anticipated initial public offering, raising $109.5M (€103M) via the sale of 9,401,793 shares at $11.70 (€11) per share, giving the company a market capitalization reaches of $294M (€277M). Trading will begin on March 15th 2017 on Euronext Amsterdam and Euronext Bruxelles under the symbol AVTX.

The Company anticipates using €65-75 million of the net proceeds of the Offering for the funding of the Joint Venture, enabling it to construct and operate the reference plant for the commercialization of the YXY technology. The company’s first world-scale plant is a 50,000 tons per year FDCA production unit planned for Antwerp as part of a joint venture with BASF. The rest of the funds will be used to build pilot plants for the company’s Zambezi and Mekong renewable chemicals projects, as well general corporate purposes.

#2: Licella, Armstrong head for scale

In March we reported that Licella and Armstrong Chemicals unveiled a joint venture to build the world’s first commercial-scale hydrothermal upgrading plants for End of Life Plastic to chemicals. The plant will come on line in 2018.

The financing for the first plant is in place with funding for an additional three plants progressing well. The initial plant is scheduled to be operational in 2018 and will be located on the Wilton industrial complex in the North East of England. It will be capable of upgrading up to 20,000 tonnes of End of Life Plastic using the Cat-HTR platform.

By utilizing End of Life Plastic the first plant will be diverting plastic from landfill and recycling a previously unrecyclable stream. In many countries, including the UK, a significant charge is levied upon companies to dispose of End of Life plastics, which up until now were not economically viable to recycle.

Cat-HTR produces high value chemicals with a diverse use via breaking down plastics e.g. Polyethylene, Polypropylene, and Polystyrene into low molecular weight compounds with little ash production.  It can process mixed plastics, overcoming sorting issues, simplifying plastic recycling and reducing costs. Also, it does not produce toxic dioxins – a problem with pyrolysis technologies with chlorine in PVC forming a salt in the water phase — and it does not require specialist gas clean up (reduced Capex and Opex).

#3 Anellotech pilot running, new mystery investor

In May we reported that Anellotech and IFPEN/Axens engineers completed a successful continuous performance test of the TCat-8 pilot plant as part of unit commissioning in Silsbee, Texas. The test involved continuous injection of MinFree woody biomass feedstock and production of BTX and other valuable chemical by-products.

The primary objectives of the test were met by demonstrating steady control and operation of the reactor, stripper, and regenerator fluid bed systems with continuous catalyst circulation at design pressures and temperatures. Additional tests are planned to complete the commissioning phase and then commence process development studies to acquire data for commercial scale-up and design of the process. The technology is scheduled to open at commercial scale in 2019.

#4: Bioplastics to grow 28% thru 2020

At the opening of the year, we reported that Future Market Insights predicted in “Bio-plastics Market: Global Industry Analysis and Opportunity Assessment 2014 to 2020”, that the global bio-plastics market is expected to account for $43.8B by 2020, registering a CAGR of 28.8% during the forecast period. A growing beverage packaging industry, government support for adopting bio-based materials, and rising consumer acceptance for bio-plastics are expected to contribute to the growth of the global bio-plastic market over the forecast period.

In terms of materials, the global bio-plastics market is segmented as bio-PET, bio-PE, bio-PA, bio-degradable polyesters, PLA & PLA blends, starch blends, PHA and others. Currently, the bio-PET material segment dominates the bio-plastics market, and was estimated to be US$ 5.6 Bn in 2014. This segment is expected to reach US$ 29.1 Bn by 2020, with a momentous CAGR of 31.4% for the forecast period. Moreover, an increasing demand for bio-plastics from the beverage packaging industry and effectiveness of bio-plastics in one-time use application has driven the demand for the bio-PET in the last few years.

#5: FDME gets a Standing O

Last month, we reported that the Bioplastics Division, a part of the Plastics Industry Association, announced DuPont Industrial Biosciences and Archer Daniels Midland as the winners of the 2017 Innovation in Bioplastics Award. The two companies developed a method to produce furan dicarboxylic methyl ester (FDME), a biobased monomer, from fructose derived from corn starch. This is the fifth-annual Innovation in Bioplastics Award, which goes to companies applying bioplastics to innovative, purposeful product design.

The new FDME-producing technology is more sustainable and results in higher yields and lower energy and capital expenditures than traditional conversion methods. Biobased FDME has the potential to replace petroleum-based materials in many applications with high performance, renewable materials in industries like packaging, textiles and plastics engineering.

#6: MetGen’s new path to 5-HMF, FDCA

In April, we reported that MetGen had developed a novel chemo-enzymatic process that leads to oxidized forms of 5-HMF. They report that “this form of sugar is known to have above 90% conversion yields, whereas fructose dehydration has only around 60% yield”.

Alex Michine, CEO continues: “In this context, MetGen’s latest innovation on the chemo-enzymatic route to oxidized forms of 5-HMF, is a great example of our capacity to enable bio-based industries.

MetGen’s MetZyme enzymatic solutions cover the entire bio-based value chain from feedstock to high-value chemicals and enable the use of cellulosic feedstocks as well as the creation of entirely new bio-based materials. Alex Michine and the MetGen team developed this illuminating, presentation-based explanation of the breakthrough in “dramatically increasing the efficiency and economics of renewable chemicals including, but not limited to, bioplastics.”

#7: Attacking high costs via new catalysts, new solvents, new enzymes

Last September we reported that researchers from IBM Research and Stanford University were able to design a catalyst that enables cheaper biodegradable plastics from plants. The high cost of biodegradable plastics compared to petroleum-derived counterparts is a major impediment to their wider use in disposable goods such as plastic utensils. Unlike current methods of converting plants into biodegradable plastics, the new catalyst is organic and does not impart heavy metals into the plastic, facilitating decomposition. The work was published in Nature Chemistry.

And in May 2016, we reported that AVA-CO2 had developed a new interface allowing for the use of different solvents which are tailored to the oxidation processes for producing 2,5-Furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) on an industrial scale. This development enables a more flexible implementation of industrial 5-HMF and FDCA production, paving the way for using polyethylene furanoate (PEF) in competitive application markets such as bottles or films for food packaging.

A downstream product of 5-HMF, FDCA is the basis for PEF. PEF has superior product properties such as an improved gas barrier, a higher modulus and a lower melting point compared to petro-based polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a less sustainable alternative which PEF can replace. As well as targeting bottling or films for food packaging, AVA-CO2 sees additional potential to open up new markets, which have so far not been served by PET or other plastics. PEF-based products can also be used use in the cosmetics, personal care, detergent and medical technology industries.

Last September, we reported that CARBIOS, Limagrain Céréales Ingrédients (LCI) and BpiFrance (SPI) launched their JV, known as CARBIOLICE, which will produce a new generation of plastics with enzymes embedded in them to catalyze safe biodegradation in the environment after use.

After use, enzymes degrade the plastic into base-molecules that can be assimilated by the micro-organisms of the environment. Biodegradation is complete within a few months (compared to 200 to 400 years for an ordinary plastic). According to the partners, during the product life there’s no change in the performance of the material during its life. It simply gets chewed up by the environment later on.

To date, only a handful of plastics have been biodegradable. Take for example, PHA. But no one plastic fits all performance requirements. Some plastics are hard, some soft, for example. Some more brittle than others. Some do better under conditions of high or low temperatures. So, the pursuit of biodegradability has been tough.

And, we might add, biodegradability isn’t a universal fix-it, if the plastic is in the landfill and all it degrades to is greenhouse gas killer, freely escaping methane.

As CARBIOS notes, “the “natural” process of degradation for fossil hard plastic matter takes between 200 and 400 years. At best, plastic waste is incinerated, even buried in landfills in certain countries with all the environmental consequences that it implies.” The markets are obvious, large and could be relatively immediate. First: flexible films — think mulch films, bags and sacks, and industrial films. Then, rigid plastics used in agriculture and for disposable tableware. To give you a sense of what’s out there, consider plastic bags and soft packaging. Global consumption represented 15 to 20 million tons in 2012.

#8: Plastics from sugar and CO2

In June we reported that some biodegradable plastics could in the future be made using sugar and carbon dioxide, replacing unsustainable plastics made from crude oil, following research by scientists from the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) at the University of Bath.

The background? Polycarbonate is used to make drinks bottles, lenses for glasses and in scratch-resistant coatings for phones, CDs and DVDs. Current manufacture processes for polycarbonate use BPA (banned from use in baby bottles) and highly toxic phosgene, used as a chemical weapon in World War One.

Now, Bath scientists have made alternative polycarbonates from sugars and carbon dioxide in a new process that also uses low pressures and room temperature, making it cheaper and safer to produce. This new type of polycarbonate can be biodegraded back into carbon dioxide and sugar using enzymes from soil bacteria. This new plastic is bio-compatible so could in the future be used for medical implants or as scaffolds for growing replacement organs for transplant

The new BPA-free plastic could potentially replace current polycarbonates in items such as baby bottles and food containers, and since the plastic is bio-compatible, it could also be used for medical implants or as scaffolds for growing tissues or organs for transplant.

#9: BioPolicy for BioPlastics: Favorable winds or not?

In March, we reported that nova institut issued a  new trend report that highlights policies around the world and their positive and negative impacts on bio-based plastics market developments. A must read for any investor or producer – where is demand expected to increase?

In contrast to biofuels, there are currently no strong, comprehensive policy frameworks in place to support bio-based materials (such as mandatory targets, tax incentives, etc.), and, as a result, these products suffer from a lack of raw material supply, low investment security or also consumer confidence. However, a variety of policies from different sectors influence bio-based materials.

The authors write: “Motivations for supporting the bio-based plastics sector (and the bio-based economy in general) vary strongly from region to region. In the US, the driver for bio-based products and plastics are resource security and agricultural market policy, while in Japan there is a strong drive towards products with a green image. In Europe, resource utilization, GHG emissions, recyclability and compostability are important drivers in developing supporting policies. Industrial development is an important driver in South East Asia, Brazil and China.”

#10 Cleaner, cheaper cooking fuel from plastic residues

In April we reported that, in India, an entrepreneurial pair have developed machines that return plastic to polyfuel that is later used for cooking, in generators and in tractors and is cheaper than fossil fuel. The methane, butane, and propane emitted during the production process is captured, cleaned and used to power the machines themselves. One machine processes 220 pounds at a time, producing 12 to 17 gallons of fuel, while the other processes 2,645 pounds at a go. Another byproduct from the process is mixed with bitumen to tarmac roads.

Hot Multi-Slide Guides to See

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Cool Thought Leadership

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