Global Demand for Bioplastics to Reach 900,000 Metric Tons by 2013

In the next few years, Braskem and Dow Chemical each plan to open plants in Brazil that will produce polyethylene from sugar cane-based ethanol, while Solvay is expected to open a bio-based polyvinyl chloride facility.

Bioplastics, plastic resins that are biodegradable or derived from plant-based sources, will rise more than fourfold to 900,000 metric tons in 2013, valued at $2.6 billion, according to a new report from The Freedonia Group. The growth will be fueled by a number of factors, including consumer demand for more environmentally-sustainable products, the development of bio-based feedstocks for commodity plastic resins, and increasing restrictions on the use of nondegradable plastic products, particularly plastic bags.

Most important, however, will be the expected continuation of high crude oil and natural gas prices, which will allow bioplastics to become more cost-competitive with petroleum-based resins.

Non-biodegradable plant-based plastics will be the primary driver of bioplastics demand, posting extraordinary growth from a small 2008 base. In the next few years, Braskem and Dow Chemical each plan to open plants in Brazil that will produce polyethylene from sugar cane-based ethanol, while Solvay is expected to open a bio-based polyvinyl chloride facility.

Biodegradable plastics, such as starch-based resins, polylactic acid (PLA) and degradable polyesters, accounted for the vast majority (nearly 90%) of bioplastics demand in 2008. Double-digit gains are expected to continue going forward, fueled in part by the emergence on the commercial market of polyhydroxy-alkanoates (PHAs). PLA will also see strong advances in demand as new production capacity comes online.

Western Europe was the largest regional market for bioplastics in 2008, accounting for about 40% of world demand. Bioplastics sales in the region benefit from strong consumer demand for biodegradable and plant-based products, a regulatory environment that favors bioplastics over petroleum resins, and an extensive infrastructure for composting.

Going forward, however, demand will grow more rapidly in the Asia/Pacific region, which will surpass the West European market by 2013. Gains will be stimulated by strong demand in Japan, which has focused intently on the replacement of petroleum-based plastics. Other regions, such as Latin America and Eastern Europe, will see stellar gains in bioplastics demand from a very small 2008 base.

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