Justin Zeulner, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance, presenting ways to use sports as a lever to promote sustainable solutions.
Who’s doing what in bioplastics
Alongside the bird’s eye view, there were several talks about innovation. From Sweden, Sekab presented its “Locally Grown Plastics” project, which looks into making polyethylene from forest residues. The demand for this biomass has gone down, argued Ylwa Alwarsdotter, and consumers are interested. As an example, she cited hospitals wanting to reduce carbon footprint, which is largely due to plastics.
FKuR Kunststoff (Germany) shared its work on developing partially biobased PP, a cheap polymer with a huge market, and the niche polymer TPE. Patrick Zimmerman added that what bioplastics often offer is product differentiation, something hard to get for many consumer products.
BASF showcased the many uses of ecovio, a blend of corn-based PLA and a fossil-based biodegradable polymer. This year’s star application seems to be a styrofoam-like material, sold to its industry buyers as an expandable bead – behaving somewhat like popcorn.
DuPont, in a joint venture with the British Tate&Lyle, is producing biobased propanediol (Susterra) from a type of industrial corn that isn’t used for food, and using engineered bacteria. Another interest is synthetic leather, which can be made entirely with biobased layers. This is used, for example, in the “vegan” shoes of Berlin-based FreiVon.
This year, Corbion decided to highlight its PLA root trainer as an ideal example for bioplastics’ market opportunities. The root trainer is a plastic cone used in young rubber plants. Unlike the conventional PE piece, Corbion’s root trainer decomposes in the soil and doesn’t need to be removed when the rubber plant is transplanted, reducing damage to the roots and significant losses in plantations. Corbion’s product has completely overtaken this niche market.
There were also inspiring presentations from the plastic-using industry. For example, Alexis Roma (from Renault) offered a perspective on the use of bioplastics in the car industry. Renault doesn’t advertise its use of bioplastics, yet uses it to replace other heavy materials and have better fuel economy. She notes that performance bioplastics, with specific properties, are easier to introduce in the internal politics of companies than drop-in bioplastics, the differences of which are only the price.
There seems to be a case for bioplastics with its own “character”, competing with fossil plastics via their innovative properties. This is in line with market predictions of a bigger role of high-performance industries.
This article first appeared on Labiotech.eu.
Read our press release for more highlights and quotes from the 11th European Bioplastics Conference. Photos and impressions from the event can be found here.