Novamont has exercised its option to acquire the remaining 22% of the share capital of Mater-Biopolymer srl
The Bioplastics firm headquartered in Novara, Northern Italy, acquired in 2014 a majority stake (78%) in the company that operates a resin plant in Lazio, Central Italy, and was a unit of PET resin maker Gruppo Mossi Ghisolfi.
The plant works making Origo-Bi, a line of renewably sourced polyesters. Origo-Bi is used to improve the characteristics of Novamont’s Mater-Bi biodegradable and compostable bioplastics. The Origio-Bi production line uses proprietary Novamont technology.
Officials said that the plant — known as the Patrica plant — had become too small for the economies of scale of MG’s PET production, but was an ideal size for Novamont.
Novamont has extensive experience in the field of bioplastics, and has given new impetus to the site, creating jobs and competitive barriers and enhancing existing research skills in the areas of materials, process engineering and innovation in general.
The Patrica plant has annual capacity of about 220 million pounds of Origo-Bi. Novamont’s biodegradable materials are used for film and foam, and in extrusion, thermoforming and injection molded products. Industrial applications for Mater-Bi are in agriculture, hygiene, organic-food packaging, food service, and as additives in rubber.
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New biodegradable bioplastics to increase crop yields
The goal of a project funded by Valencian Climate-KIC, the European initiative against climate change, is to use new biodegradable plastics with active components to increase crop yields in agriculture and to improve its competitiveness in the market.
Researchers at the Institute of Food Engineering for Development (IUIAD) of the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) are leading this project, which also involves the Department of Inorganic Chemistry of the University of Valencia, Anecoop, Nurel, and the agricultural associations AVA -Asaja and La Unió.
IUIAD researcher, Chelo Gonzalez, said that the use of conventional plastic padding, obtained from petroleum, is an effective way to improve crop yields worldwide but that it wasn't very sustainable.
These plastics can reduce water evaporation, control the growth of weeds, and prevent the crops from having direct contact with the soil.
"Their withdrawal is usually expensive and increases costs of the production process so, after being used, they are usually abandoned on the floor, having a negative impact on the environment," she stated.
In addition, the researcher said, "they can't be recycled due to the high levels of pollutants that they contain. A possible solution producers use is burning them in situ, although this generates a series of harmful air pollutants such as dioxins."
Chelo Gonzalez, who is also a professor at the School of Agricultural Engineering and the Environment of the UPV, said that using padded plastics made from natural materials, which are biodegradable, would solve many of these problems.
"These bioplastics could be left on the ground without risk of contaminating the environment and would help producers avoid the additional costs of their withdrawal," she stated.
According to Gonzalez, "currently, the number of agricultural plastics that have a biodegradable natural origin is very limited and their prices are 2 to 3 times higher than those of conventional plastics."
"Therefore, there is a need to seek sustainable alternatives that are environmentally friendly and economically sound," remarked the researcher.
She also added that the incorporation of active components such as antimicrobial, antifungal components, or fertilizers, would have an added value that could offset their high price.
"These active components would be released in a controlled manner to the environment and avoid further treatments on the crops," she added.
The project's first meeting will be held on February 16, and researchers will analyze the prospects, risks, and opportunities for the use of these materials, as well as other possible uses they might have.
To this end, they will create a series of surveys about the use of biodegradable plastics, which will then be sent to manufacturers of plastics for agricultural use, farmers, and consumer associations. In addition, they will carry out economic, functional, and life cycle assessments.
"The active bioplastics could redefine agricultural practices and the food chain, offering a new model of sustainable agriculture, not only as a replacement for traditional plastics but as a new approach to treating the fields," she concluded.
DuPont Sorona recognised by World Textile Awards
20 February 2017 Print Email USA
DuPont Industrial Biosciences announces that its renewably sourced fibre, DuPont Sorona has been recognised as a runner-up for Fibre Producer of the Year by the World Textile Awards.
Sorona biopolymer, which contains 37% annually renewable plant-based ingredients, is used in apparel, residential and commercial carpets and automotive mats and carpets.
The first independent global awards competition, the World Textile Awards, are dedicated to recognising and rewarding excellence across the global textile industry. Companies were assessed on their market position, technical performance, environmental and sustainability practices, quality control and employee programs.
Green shoots but slow growth.
Market share of different types of bioplastics (supplied by the Nova Institute in conjuntion with European Bioplastics)
A combination of low oil prices, altered priorities at government level and unclear terms of reference is in danger of holding back the bio alternative to fossil-based plastics. Des King reports from last year's European Bioplastics Conference.
The worldwide production of bioplastics grew by 5% last year to reach 4.2 m tonnes, of which almost 40% is taken up by the packaging industry; the split between bio-based 'drop-ins' that replicate their fossil-fuel derived alternatives (viz. bio PE and PET) and compostables (viz. PLA) running at about two-thirds to one-third. Whilst forward growth is predicted by the Nova Institute in conjunction with European Bioplastics to increase by almost 50% over the next five years to an estimated 6.1 m tonnes - with over 2.5 m tonnes going to packaging applications - the bulk of that uplift will not be achieved until the turn of the decade. It is growth that needs to be seen in the context of an oil-based plastics packaging that amounts to 76 m tonnes per annum.
Notwithstanding the positive support of a number of high profile brand owners such as Coca-Cola, Danone, Heinz and most recently Mars; the encouragement of NGOs such as the WWF and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation; and the constant stream of innovation and development in terms of biopolymer technology the sector clearly has a long way to go before it represents a viable alternative to its longer-established fossil-fuel counterpart.
Not necessarily so, says European Bioplastics chairman Francois de Bie, at the trade associations' conference in Berlin, 29-30 November 2016, who in addition to the packaging industry cites an increase in the uptake of bioplastics materials in many other sectors, including consumer goods (0.9 m tonnes); the automotive and transport sector (0.6 m tonnes) and the construction and building sector (0.5 m tonnes), as evidence of growing traction being achieved.
'The data illustrates an important trend, driven by changing consumer demands, to make plastic products more resource efficient and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the dependency on fossil resources,' explained Mr de Bie. 'This trend is the result of substantial investments in research and development by the many innovative small and large companies that concentrate their strengths on the development of bio-based products designed with the circular economy in mind.'
Despite the ethical and the sometimes geopolitical forces in favour of a switch from an oil to an agrarian derivative, there are diffuse factors combining to hold back the adoption of bioplastics. Not least amongst these is the current low price of the oil barrel itself; averaging not much above $40 throughout last year and predicted not to rise much above $50-70 over the coming months. However committed to sustainability some brand owners may be, right now there is no commercial advantage in going green.
Only representing about 5% of the oil barrel, fluctuations in price can arguably be managed. A more significant deterrent, however, may be a growing question mark over the forward deployment of arable land to the farming of renewable crops for biobased production in preference to food. With the world's population on course to pass the 9 billion mark by 2050 it is an argument that could gain traction.
The food versus feedstock debate has long been a contentious issue; not least in determining the actual amount of land used or available. The bioplastics sector assesses that current production will only take up 0.02% of available resource in 2021 - and that indeed the entire bio-economy only accounts for 3% of all arable land not going to food production.
Nevertheless, the head of the EU's sustainable production, products and consumption unit Hugo-Maria Schally appears to be suggesting that is still too much, 'EU policy is clear that for every use we want to make of biomass for energy or bioplastics it should not be in competition with food production. We're not dealing with bioplastics in isolation; we're dealing with it in terms of the overall society.'
Not surprisingly, such qualified comments are a cause for some concern within the bioplastics industry. According to Kristy-Barbara Lange, the EU's reticence to commit wholeheartedly to bioplastics might in part be due to its earlier less than satisfactory involvement with the bio-fuels sector, she said, 'They need to have this huge calculation in their heads when considering the industrial use of biomass, but there is still land available; it obviously depends on how to make best use of it.'
US-based PLA (polylactide) producer NatureWorks warns of the detrimental effect such caution might have on future investment. 'There's a desire to support biobased but I think we get mixed signals from policy-makers in general,' said director of public affairs Steve Davies. 'What is needed from any government is a clear strategic indication of support. Mixed signals is what makes the industry reluctant to invest; it's what makes oftentimes the industry here invent in Europe but go commercialise elsewhere like Asia.'
Running parallel to the way in which the biobased sector might justifiably be struggling to interpret the mixed messaging emanating out of Brussels, an equal disconnect may be hampering the readiness of their prospective customer base to switch across from oil-based plastics. According to research conducted by University of Applied Sciences & Arts amongst German consumers, the whole issue of bioplastics is characterised by low awareness or else false perceptions.
Of those whose opinions were canvassed, 56.7% of respondents professed to never having heard of bioplastics at all. In many ways just as concerning was that of the 7.1% who claimed full understanding of what the sector had to offer, over two-thirds were under the firm impression that all bioplastics were compostable. 'Consumer expectations are skewed, largely because of the appellation bio', concludes the research.
Recommendations to simplify the messaging; better manage expectations; provide greater transparency; and focus on the benefits in comparison to oil-based plastics, are strongly endorsed by Erwin Wink, chairman of the Holland Bioplastics trade association, albeit with one important and arguably hopeful caveat. 'I can quite believe that most consumers don't have much of an idea of what bioplastics are. But likewise they have no clue about what fossil-based plastics are either. Tell them that a transparent PET bottle is made out of crude, black oil and they'll glaze over.'
Communication with brand owners likewise needs to be more forthright and clear cut, said Braskem's Life Cycle Assessment specialist Yuki Hamilton O. Kabe, 'I think the main obstacle might be mis-information. There is a misconception as to what is green, what is sustainable. Also, when we talk about packaging we tend to mostly think about the end of life impact; we forget about the benefits in their actual usage. it's about time that we stopped making decisions based on emotions and pre-conceived ideas; instead we have to mature and base decisions on scientific fact and arguments.'
'Consider, for example, a multi-layer flexible pack with barrier / MAP properties etc for beef. Our studies have shown that the total cost of the pack (viz. not only the cost of manufacture but also its environmental impact) would be around 150 times less than the the value that it has protected during its lifetime. To have 1kg of beef you would have approx. 14kgs of CO² during its life-cycle, as well as hundreds of cubic litres of water consumed. When the pack protects the meat it's also protecting all the resources that went into its production. So we would get a true cost of around $9 per kg more than it would cost if we considered all the environmental impact.'
The bioplastics sector's impressive track record in polymer development and innovation was endorsed by a number of presentations made at the conference with especial reference to the flexible packaging sector incl. the following:
• The Spanish non-profit research association AIMPLAS introduced a multi-layer PLA / PVOH (incl. biodegradable ties and natural wax coating) MAP solution developed by a consortium of 10 European manufacturers for cheese and fresh pasta products. Compliant to industry standard EN 13432, by optimising thickness of the five separate layers reduces overall cost by 25 %.
• Mars is the latest high profile brand owner to dip a toe into the bioplastics sector, and has promptly been awarded the industry's annual award for innovation in respect of the potato starch waste and PLA blend adopted for its 'Snickers' chocolate bar.
The result of a four-year development project involving the Dutch-based Rodenburg Biopolymers; film producers Taghleef Industries; and converters Mondi Consumer Goods Packaging, the substrate has been introduced seamlessly onto Mars' existing PP lines with all the same performance characteristics. It did, however, present initial challenges that were successfully overcome due to the biobased film's tendency to shrink under heat generated during the gravure printing process habitually used for this volume-selling product. With a view to easing pressure on land occupancy, at least two companies are developing polymer effectively from thick if not thin air. NatureWorks has invested $1m in a fermentation plant to derive feedstock from methane which with the appropriate industry partnerships could achieve commercialisation within 5 years.
Meanwhile, the Dutch-based next generation clean chemical production platform developer Photanol has confirmed it can produce lactic acid and additional biomass media by allowing the cyanobacteria to grow in conjunction with sunlight and CO² via a basic photosynthesis process - and that it claims can be between 10 - 15 % more cost-effective than PLA derived through the traditional sugar cane route. Demonstrating PLA's versatility, Corbion has used it as a replacement for PP cones traditionally used to protect rubber trees during their formative growing phase. Whereas the rubber industry in Thailand has traditionally experienced irreparable damage to the root system of a significant proportion of young trees when the protective cone is removed, the PLA alternative simply composts post-use.
Corbion has also confirmed that the 75,000 tonne capacity PLA plant it is building in Thailand as part of its joint venture with Total is on track to come on stream in 2018.
The European Bioplastics Conference 2017 will be held in Berlin during 28-29 November.
EU Policymakers Boost Bio-based Plastic
"Strategy on Plastics in a circular economy" addresses the "high dependence on fossil feedstock" as one of its three priority areas
European policymakers gave a bold signal that they want to boost bio-based plastic products this week. On Tuesday, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee adopted a Report which calls on Member States to promote the use of bio-based recyclable packaging via “economic instruments”, “improving market conditions” and “reviewing existing legislation”. This was followed by the publication, on Thursday, of the European Commission’s “Strategy on Plastics in a circular economy“, which addresses the “high dependence on fossil feedstock” as one of its three priority areas.
It might be tempting to herald the dawn of a new era for bio-based plastics. It’s not. There’s a good deal of work that still needs to be done before we see a really significant shift to these materials. Bioplastics make up barely 1% of total plastic production and there’s certainly a need to increase production capacities in Europe, which are still very low. Fostering responsible growth in the industry is a key area, which depends on sound sustainability criteria, robust standards, and access to feedstock.
There is now however, perhaps for the first time, some tangible momentum within the policy field. Pull measures for the use of bio-based plastics, which until recently were considered a pipedream, are now much more realistic. Some Members States have made firm commitments to explore incentives through the participation fees of EPR schemes. Others are keen to promote bio-based materials within certain product categories. But it remains to be seen whether the Council will support the European Parliament’s position outlined in the Bonafe Report.
But all this needs to be underpinned by life-cycle thinking, as mentioned in a recent article I posted here. Bio-based materials and products that undergo LCA can demonstrate the GHG emissions savings and other sustainability benefits they possess. LCA increases the ability to accurately compare the environmental impacts of different materials, something which will feed into the forthcoming discussions on eco-design.
Braskem, producer of I’m Green™, a renewable, recyclable plastic made from sugarcane, is the leading biopolymer producer in the world.