In spring this year, the Nova-Institute published a market study that presents the latest findings of production capacities of biobased polymers in Europe. Although Europe shows a strong demand for biobased polymers, production tends to take place elsewhere, namely in Asia and America. The European Union’s relatively weak position in the production of biobased polymers is largely the consequence of an unfavourable political framework for the industrial material use of biomass. However, new developments and investments are foreseen.
Next to no PHA production capacity
The biobased polymer production facilities for polylactid acide (PLA) and polyhydroxy alkanoate (PHA) located in Europe are currently rather small, and although there are next to no production capacity figures for the latter, several pilot plants are already operating. On the other hand, biobased polyurethane (PU) and polyamide (PA) production has gradually taken off in Europe and is likely to remain stable in order to supply the growing markets in the building and construction and automotive sectors. The “Biobased Polymers Producer Database“, which is continuously updated by the Nova-Institute, shows that Europe’s current position in producing biobased polymers is limited to a few polymers. Europe has so far established a solid position mainly in the field of starch blends (blends of polymers with native starch or thermoplastic starch) and it is expected to remain strong in this sector for the next few years. Nevertheless, new developments and investments are foreseen in Europe: some years after the installation of industrial scale PLA capacities in North America and Asia, the first European industrial-scale PLA plant is scheduled to become operational in 2014.
Biobased PBAT to reach 50% share by 2020
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) production is growing worldwide, largely due to the Plant PET Technology Collaborative (PTC) initiative, whose global value chain development will lead to the introduction of future production facilities in Europe by 2015. Europe does host industrial production facilities for polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT). Although still fully fossilbased, PBAT is expected to be increasingly biobased reaching shares of 50% by 2020, to judge by industry announcements and the capacity development of its biobased precursors. Also for polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) recent developments in the production of biobased 1.4 butanediol (BDO) have proven that the biobased route to the polymer is commercially feasible and its production is planned to have started by 2020 (date not disclosed yet).
With leading chemical corporations, Europe has a particular strength and great potential in the fields of high-value fine chemicals and building blocks for the production of PA, PU and thermosets among others. However, only few specific, large-scale plans for biobased building blocks with concrete plans for the production of biobased polymers have been announced to date.
The European Union’s relatively weak position in the production of biobased polymers is largely the consequence of an unfavourable political framework. In contrast to biofuels, there is no European policy framework to support biobased polymers, whereas biofuels receive strong and ongoing support during commercial production (quotas, tax incentives, green electricity regulations and market introduction programmes, etc). Without comparable support, biobased chemicals and polymers will suffer further from underinvestment by the private sector. The Nova-Institute says that it is currently much more attractive and safe to invest in biobased polymers in Asia, South America and North America.