Bioplastics 2023-2033

Bioplastics 2023-2033

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Bioplastics manufacturers are scaling production rapidly and the industry is expected to grow by 10.1% CAGR in the next ten years. Manufacturers are driven by brand-owner pull to meet decarbonization commitments, consumer demand for sustainability, and single-use fossil-based plastic ban laws. In this report, IDTechEx explores the drivers of the bioplastic market’s growth, analyses key and emerging technologies, examines end-of-life options, discusses applications, and forecasts the opportunities and growth of the market.

Plastic demand continues to grow even as we become increasingly aware of the threat that plastics pose to our environment. Global consumption of plastics will double by 2050. To combat the impact of plastic on environment and climate change, the industry is transitioning towards a circular economy. Yet, even if all the plastic produced every year was 100% recycled, there would still be a need for virgin feedstock to meet growing consumption. Bioplastics – plastics which are synthesised from biobased feedstocks – can replace incumbent fossil-based plastics here. Given their biobased origin, these plastics are a lower carbon footprint and sustainable option to incumbent fossil-based plastics.

The bioplastics industry began decades ago, but during the 2010s the industry fell deep into the valley of death, indicated by a string of bankruptcies and business repositioning away from the space. This slump was driven by recoil from bullish initial investment in the space, and a significant bottleneck when it came to scaling production to commercial level. Furthermore, the high relative cost of bioplastics compared with a substantial drop in the price of Brent crude made bioplastics poor competition against conventional plastics, reinforcing the decline.

Yet, recent changes have turned the tide in the bioplastics industry, revitalizing its growth mode. Foremost, there has been a shift towards sustainability demand from brand-owners themselves. This is driven from both sides: by consumer pull that continues to strengthen, and by legislation changes (plus anticipation for future changes) towards sustainability- such as single use fossil-based plastics bans. The cornerstone COP26 conference, supported by the IPCC report, fuelled brand-owner commitments to decarbonization, too. This surplus demand is pushing manufacturers to expand their capacities faster, with many brand-owners forming partnerships to accelerate the scaling-up process.

Many companies are beginning to overcome the commercial scale bottleneck and as technology develops bioplastics are being produced for lower costs. Additionally, consumers are more willing now to pay the premium for sustainable bioplastics. Overall, these factors are driving bioplastics towards being more affordable and competitive against conventional plastics. This is supported by a spike in Brent crude prices recently, which make bioplastics a more attractive alternative.

A major factor for bioplastic adoption to disrupt the plastics industry is the drop-in materials. These are biobased feedstocks or building blocks that can be a direct substitute for incumbent feedstocks. By substituting with drop-ins, manufacturers can easily facilitate the transition from fossil to biobased. The same processes can be used, rather than establishing entirely new plants, and end-product properties are unchanged. This also means that the well-established end-of-life options of incumbent plastic products can be used, particularly recycling streams which massively improve the sustainability of a plastic product. Using drop-ins, the biobased material can be traced with chain-of-custody models like mass balance, which create transparency and trust throughout the value chain regarding sustainable material origins and processes. Overall, the plastics market will more readily adopt drop-in bioplastics which have a strong advantage over other bioplastics.

Yet, there are still many challenges for several bioplastic types to overcome. To be truly sustainable and become part of the circular economy, bioplastics must be designed for end-of-life processing. For example, PLA, the most widely produced 100% biobased plastic material can be industrially composted, however this provides no value to the compost so there are few off-takers in the industry. Meanwhile, recycling PLA, unlike drop-in biobased PET, requires dedicated infrastructure that is uncommon and very expensive to adopt. Instead, most PLA is mismanaged or goes to landfill.

The largest groups of plastics worldwide, PP and PE, remain without a major bioplastic solution. Bio-naphtha is used to make biobased PP and PPE, but synthesis of bio-naphtha from bio-alcohols and oxygenates is inefficient (because of waste oxygen in the process). Furthermore, this puts chemical manufacturers into competition for feedstock with biofuel and bioenergy. On the other hand, bio-naphtha can be made from plant oils, however these raw materials suffer from price fluctuations resulting from geopolitical instability.

Younger bioplastic types that are still in demonstration or pilot scale show promising properties. However, they have yet to develop a significant range of applications, critical to developing demand for the materials. Companies in these niches need to form partnerships with brand-owners and formulators to expand their application portfolios.

The report segments and discusses the market by bioplastic types, looking at the drivers and constraints of each segment. These segments are extrapolated in the 10-year forecast, to explore the segments’ technology readiness, potential for market disruption, and the landscape for planned capacity expansions.

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