Can Bio-Based Chemicals Improve Products’ Performance and Sustainability?


by | Jan 4, 2016

bio-chemicalsThe global renewable chemicals market will reach $84.3 billion by 2020, up from $49 billion in 2015, growing at a CAGR of 11.47 percent, according to a Research and Markets report.

Driven largely by increasing environmental concerns, government support for environmentally responsible sources and processes, and technological innovations, market participants see the need to shift focus from petrochemical feedstock to renewable feedstock, the report says. This not only provides increased economic benefits; it also results in lower greenhouse gas emissions and a smaller environmental footprint.

The major restraints identified in this report are cost and production issues along with the trade-off with the vital resources. The burning issue observed in the market is the fluctuating crude oil prices, which will impact the renewable chemicals market in the short term.

The report also details renewable chemicals market segments: alcohols, platform chemicals, and biopolymers. The alcohols accounts for more than 80 percent of the renewable chemicals market, in terms of value in 2015 and the same trend is projected to continue during the forecast period. The biopolymers constituted the second-major segment with the share of over 5 percent of the overall renewable chemicals market, by value. The biopolymers market is projected to register the high CAGR of 12.53 percent (by value) during the forecast period, due to the increasing demand for eco-friendly products. Starch blends constituted the largest share in biopolymers with 33.9 percent in 2014, in terms of value, followed by bio-polyethylene (PE). Bio-polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is projected to register the highest CAGR of over 15 percent during the forecast period.

Why DuPont’s Converting to Biopolymers

Following the report’s release — and highlighting its prediction that biopolymers will see double-digit growth over the next five years — DuPont execs took the stage at the European Biopolymer Summit 2015 last month to talk about high-performance materials in packaging, automotive and other consumer markets.

“Biopolymers have quietly infiltrated many markets based on the combination of environmental and performance benefits,” said Rick Bell, development manager for DuPont Performance Polymers. “That combination will continue to drive higher-value consumer products. We want to familiarize people with the options and challenge them to think differently about how to get the greatest performance from the materials they have to work with.”

DuPont offers a range of bio-based, engineering-grade polymers used in vehicle components, residential carpets, sporting goods and cellphones.

“We’re converting petro-based plastics ingredients to renewables where it’s technically feasible and cost-effective and we’re developing entirely new polymers — with completely different performance characteristics — based on these bio-based ingredients,” Bell said. “For us to bring the science to market, though, the materials must offer better performance and better cost position than the materials they would replace.”

Karlheinz Hausmann, sustainability technology leader of DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers, echoed the need for biopolymers to perform at least as well as their petroleum-based equivalents or bring new, differentiated performance profiles.

“When you consider packaging from a holistic sustainability aspect, recycling and lightweighting are increasingly important and need to be compatible with the chosen biopolymer approach,” he said. “As in all industries, the brand owners need to recognize and support the value proposition of biopolymers in context with sustainability goals for respective applications.”

Last month, DuPont and Dow Chemical agreed to merge, forming a $130 billion company that will then split into three companies, one of which will focus on polymers.

Look for Improvement Chemicals in 2016

In the renewable chemicals market, Jennie Lynch from Lux Research’s bio-based materials and chemicals team suggests keeping an eye on companies targeting applications in the polymers space such as Avantium. The company produces furan-2,5-dicarboxylic acid (FDCA), which acts a precursor in the production of polyethylene furanoate (PEF) — a bio-based PET alternative. “Avantium claim its FDCA has improved barrier and thermal properties over incumbents,” Lynch says.

Other companies to watch include those targeting applications within the lubricant space, Lynch says, naming Altranex, which claims its biobased lubricants have high performance properties compared to petroleum-derived incumbents, as well as Biosynthetic Technologies, which makes high-performance bio-based lubricants.

“We have also seen rising interest for high performance bio-based polyurethanes, fueled mostly by end-user industries such automotive, and durable goods,” Lynch says. “Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation announced earlier this year that it has developed bio-based polycarbonatediol, a type of high-performance polyol which acts as a precursor in the production of flexible and rigid polyurethanes. Emery Oleochemicals also announced the completion of construction of its bio-polyol plant in Cincinnati, Ohio, whereby the company will implement its ozonolysis technology to produce polyols for the automotive industry.”

Looking ahead, Lynch says Lux Research expects companies and investors to turn towards improvement chemicals in 2016. These, Lynch says, “offer more than just the claims of sustainability that standard replacement chemicals promise, something which will be remain important against the backdrop of prolonged oil low prices. In a sentence; we expect companies to continue to look for more bang for their buck in 2016.”

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