Growth Rate of Bioplastics Could Erode Demand for Oil

by | Jan 2, 2018

The use of bioplastics – made from plants instead of fossil fuels – is expected to grow by at least 50% in the next five years (per the European Bioplastics Association). The rate of growth, in fact, may be enough to erode a potion of oil demand, just as recycling can erode the overall demand for virgin plastics, according to Pieterjan Van Uytvanck, a senior consultant at Wood Mackenzie, a research group focused on the oil industry. 
While bioplastics currently make up just 1% of the plastics market, chemical companies like BASF have jumped into the growing bioplastics market to meet the demand from companies like Coca-Cola and Lego A/S.
One solution that enables plastic bottles to be made from 100% renewable raw materials comes via a joint venture between BASF and Dutch company Avantium. A process produces the chemical building block furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) from fructose. FDCA can be used to make polyethylenefuranoate (PEF), which can be manufactured into beverage bottles and food packaging. PEF bottles have some unique features: Not only are they 100% bio-based, compared to bottles made of PET they offer improved barrier properties for gases like carbon dioxide and oxygen, leading to a longer shelf life for the packaged beverages, BASF says.
In June, Avantium NV announced industry consortium “PEFerence.” The consortium, consisting of 11 companies including Synvina, Avantium, BASF, and a number of other reputable industrial companies and brand owners. 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.
IKEA has said that, by 2020, it wants to manufacture all of its plastic products – including carrier bags, children’s toys and storage boxes – from renewable and/or recycled materials. “Here, we are trying to replace oil-based plastics with those made from renewable raw materials. This could mean 100% bio-based polymers such as polylactide or else combinations of a variety of biobased materials. In some cases, mixtures with oil-based plastics are also a possible first step,” explains Puneet Trehan, material innovation and development leader at IKEA. The initial target, he says, is a bio-based proportion of 40% to 60%.

Lego has said it wants to produce its building bricks from plastic made of alternative materials as of 2030 and in 2015 founded its own Sustainable Materials Center. In 2009, the Coca-Cola Company launched its PlantBottle technology and soon afterwards it licensed the technology to other major companies such as ketchup producer H.J. Heinz and Ford Motor Company. The polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle was initially made up of 30% plant-based material. Coca-Cola’s goal is to produce the PlantBottle using only renewable resources. In the next decade, this should be the case for all PET plastic bottles, which represent around 60% of all of Coca-Cola’s packaging.

Coca-Cola has sold more than 50 billion PlantBottles.

But retailers need to increase demand for bioplastics to really make the market thrive. “It won’t ever work if there’s just one big consumer company like a Coca-Cola trying to drive suppliers,” said Ben Jordan, head of environmental policy at Coca-Cola (via Industry Week). “You need more demand out there in industry.”

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