bio-based polymer market

The global bio-based polymer market 2019 – A revised view on a turbulent and growing market

The new market and trend report “Bio-based Building Blocks and Polymers – Global Capacities, Production and Trends 2019-2024” from the German nova-Institute shows capacities and production data for all bio-based polymers in the year 2019 and a forecast for 2024. In 2019, the total production volume of bio-based polymers was 3.8 million tonnes, which is 1% of the production volume of fossil-based polymers and about 3% more than in 2018 – this CAGR is expected to continue until 2024. The major biomass feedstock used for bio-based polymer production are biogenic by-products (46%), especially the by-product glycerol from the biodiesel production, used for epoxy resin production.

The production of bio-based polymers has become much more professional and differentiated in recent years. A large number of different producers and suppliers came into play to create bio-based alternatives for practically every application. The already large number of players in the bio-based polymer field, many situated in Asia, makes it difficult to verify each announced and installed capacity and their actual production. Detailed research, including interviews with international experts and players in the bio-based polymer field have now made it possible to draw a verified and realistic view on the market. The results look at an even smaller bio-based polymer market than formerly assumed: The market share of bio-based polymers in the total polymer and plastics market is 1% (3.8 million tonnes in 2019). The capacities and production of bio-based polymers will continue to grow with an expected CAGR of about 3% until 2024, which is almost the same predicted growth rate as for fossil-based polymers and plastics (Figure 1).

Fig: 1

The increase in production capacity from 2018 to 2019 is mainly based on the expansion of poly(butylene adipate-co- terephthalate) (PBAT) production in Europe, worldwide epoxy resin production and European production of starch-containing polymer compounds. Also, increased and new capacities of polybutylene succinate and copolymers (PBS(X)), bio-based polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) – for the first time commercially available – were reported in 2019. Especially epoxy resins and PP will continue to grow significantly until 2024. Additionally, polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) capacities will increase by 2024. In 2019, detailed research on the bio-based structural polymer market unveiled significant changes and a former misinterpretation of available, but non-transparent market numbers. Therefore, the actual global production volume for bio-based polymers in 2018 is much smaller than the one reported in the previous report (Figure 1).

Considering the future steady increase of bio-based polymers, the biomass feedstock requirement is a necessary factor to consider. This is especially true for the recurring debate on the use of food crops for bio-based polymer production. Figure 2 shows the percentage distribution of the 5 million tonnes biomass needed for the worldwide production of 3.6 million tonnes of bio-based polymers.

Fig: 2

The major biomass feedstock used for bio-based polymer production are biogenic by-products (46%), especially the by-product glycerol from the biodiesel production, which is mainly used for epoxy resin production via epichlorohydrin as an intermediate. 37% of the required biomass are made up by starch and sugars, 8% by cellulose (mainly for cellulose acetate) and 9% by edible and non-edible plant oils, such as castor oil. From the 3.6 million tonnes of produced bio-based polymers (fully and partly bio-based, excluding fossil-based biodegradable PBAT and PBS) only 1.6 million tonnes are actual bio-based parts of the polymers (43%). Considering this fact, 3 times more feedstock is needed than used for product formation. This amount of over 3.4 million tonnes (68%) of feedstock that is not ending up in the product is due to high number of conversion steps and related feedstock and intermediate losses.

Overall, the market environment remains challenging with low crude oil prices and little political support.
So far, the two major advantages of bio-based polymers have not been politically rewarded. The first advantage is that bio-based polymers replace fossil carbon in the production process with renewable carbon from biomass. This is indispensable for a sustainable, climate-friendly plastics industry and is not yet politically rewarded.
The second advantage is offered by more than half of the produced bio-based polymers: they are biodegradable (depending on the environment) and can therefore be a solution for plastics that cannot be collected and enter the environment. In these situations, they can biodegrade without leaving behind microplastics. Only a few countries such as Italy, France and probably Spain will politically support this additional disposal path.

In 2019, the European Union’s single-use plastic ban was adopted. It will enter into force in summer 2020. Biodegradability and bio-based origin are not recognised as grounds for exemption from the ban. Almost all bio-based and biodegradable polymers are put under collective punishment together with fossil plastics and are banned as well. Only so-called “natural polymers”, polymerised by nature, are exempt.

Under the microplastics restriction currently being worked on in the REACH regulation, PHBs will probably be exempted from a microplastic ban. In summer 2020, the final regulation is expected.
The most important market drivers in 2018 and 2019 were brands that want to offer their customers environmentally friendly solutions and critical consumers looking for alternatives to petrochemicals. If bio-based polymers were to be accepted as a solution and promoted in a similar way as biofuels, annual growth rates of 10 to 20% could be expected. The same applies should the price of oil should rise significantly. Based on the already existing technical maturity of bio-based polymers, considerable market shares could be gained in these cases.

For 2019, the annually updated market report includes significant changes and some new features: It contains comprehensive revised information on the capacity development from 2019 to 2024, per bio-based building block and polymer, as well as production data for the year 2019, per bio-based polymer.

Also, the so-called calculated bio-based content is provided within this issue. This is the bio-based content dependent on the average bio-based content of the respective polymer.

A total of 18 bio-based building blocks and 17 polymers are covered in the 2019 report. Bio-based naphtha and casein polymers are added as a new building block and polymer group. Furthermore, the new issue includes analyses of market developments and producers per building block and polymer, so that readers can quickly gain an overview of developments that go far beyond capacity and production figures.

As an additional bonus, the report provides a detailed, comprehensive expert view on the current state and future development of the biomass balance approach.

Since the 2018 issue, each update of the report includes a detailed research of the market development of specific bio-based polymers. The market report for 2019 includes comprehensive calculations and explanations on bio-based polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and bio-based polyurethanes (PUR). This intensive analysis was possible through direct collaboration with the main experts in this area. Finally, the in 2018 introduced deep dive into the producing companies was comprehensively updated and now shows 170 detailed company profiles – from start-ups to multinational corporations.

Source: German Nova-Institute press release

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