Bioplastics are flourishing. An annual market data update, presented by European Bioplastics (Berlin) at the 12th European Bioplastics Conference in Berlin, confirms the global bioplastics industry is experiencing high, stable growth.

“The global market for bioplastics is predicted to grow by 20% over the next five years,” says François de Bie, Chairman of European Bioplastics. “The transition to a low-carbon and circular economy, stronger policy support for the bio-economy, and an increased consumer awareness for sustainable products and packaging are driving the expansion.”

The global bioplastics production capacity is set to increase from around 2.05 million tonnes/2.26 million tons in 2017 to approximately 2.44 million tonnes/2.69 million tons in 2022.

Innovative biopolymers such as PLA (polylactic acid) and PHAs (polyhydroxyalkanoates) are the main drivers of this growth in the field of bio-based, biodegradable plastics.

PHAs are an important polymer family that has been in development for a while and that now finally enters the market at commercial scale, with production capacities estimated to triple in the next five years.

These polyesters are 100% bio-based, biodegradable, and feature a wide array of physical and mechanical properties depending on their chemical composition. Production capacities of PLA are also predicted to grow by 50% by 2022 compared to 2017.

PLA is a very versatile material that features excellent barrier properties and is available in high-performance PLA grades that are an ideal replacement for PS (polystyrene), PP (polypropylene), and ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) in more demanding applications.

Bio-based, non-biodegradable plastics, including the drop-in solutions bio-based PE (polyethylene) and bio-based PET (polyethylene terephthalate), as well as bio-based PA (polyamides), currently make up for around 56% (1.2 million tonnes/1.32 million tons) of the global bioplastics production capacities.

The production of bio-based PET is predicted to continue to grow as new capacities are planned to come online in Europe in the coming years. Intentions to increase production capacities for the bio-based PET, however, have not been realised at the rate predicted in previous years.

Instead, the focus has shifted to the development of PEF (polyethylene furanoate), a new polymer that is expected to enter the market in 2020.

PEF is comparable to PET but 100% bio-based and is said to feature superior barrier and thermal properties, making it an ideal material for the packaging of drinks, food and non-food products. In 2022, bio-based PP is expected to enter the market on a commercial scale with a strong growth potential due to the widespread application of PP in a wide range of sectors.

Packaging remains the largest field of application for bioplastics with almost 60% (1.2 million tonnes/1.32 million tons) of the total bioplastics market in 2017.

The data also confirms that bioplastics materials are already being used in many other sectors, including textiles, consumer goods and applications in the automotive and transport sector and the agriculture and horticulture sector.