There’s a Great Future in (Bio)plastics. Think About It.


The inevitable remake of 1967’s “The Graduate” will have at least one classic line that needs only a minor “tweak” for 21st Century audiences. “One word. Are you listening? Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?”

I have been thinking about it, especially after a recent Freedonia (Cleveland) report indicated this “one-word” future isn’t in plastics. It’s in bioplastics.  Dramatic pause. Think about it (Oh, and it’s in Brazil. Mind relocating?).

The report forecasts demand for bioplastics will soar nearly 30% annually through 2015, reaching $2.9 billion and volumes exceeding 1.1 million metric tonnes.  Freedonia expects the  commercial availability of biobased polyethylene (PE) and other non-biodegradable, commodity resins to fuel much of the growth, not the newer biodegradable materials like PLA.

According to the report, consumption of non-biodegradable bioplastics, including PE, polypropylene (PP) and (potentially!) polyethylene terepthalate (PET), is expected to reach 1.3 million m.t. in 2020. This market totaled a mere 30,000 m.t. in 2010, with Braskem’s 200,000 m.t./year Triunfo, Brazil ethanol-to-PE plant coming online late in the year.

“Enough said; that’s a deal.”

So far, only a handful of projects have been announced to make commodity plastics from renewable feedstocks, but market sources say attractive ethanol economics in Brazil and rising oil prices should push that figure higher. As of now, Braskem plans to add biobased PP capacity in 2013, and Dow Chemical recently revived its plans for a Brazilian biobased PE plant. Solvay had been planning to produce ethanol-based ethylene in Brazil, but put the project on hold to pursue its recent acquisition of Rhoda. And with recent advancements from Toray, Gevo, and Virent, and a push from major consumers like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, biobased PET seems a likely candidate for major investment between now and 2020. Coca-Cola is already using PET sourced from renewable ethylene glyclol, which the company says is sourced from Brazil.

Freedonia does expect biodegradeable plastics—currently 90% of the world bioplastics market—to post gains. Demand for polylactic acid (PLA) and starch-based resins will more than double through 2015; this is good news for NatureWorks, the Cargill/PTT Chemical (Bangkok) joint venture that produces the majority of PLA resin globally. It expects its 140,000 m.t./year Blair, NE site to sell out in 2013-2014, and says it will announce details for its next plant before year-end. It has, however, said it expects its next plant to be sited in Thailand.


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