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Asia, South America to get 'lion's share' of biopolymer investment

By: Steve Toloken

March 7, 2013

HURTH, GERMANY -- The "lion's share" of capital investment in bio-based polymers through 2020 will happen in Asia and South America because of better access to feedstocks and a favorable political framework, according to a new study from Germany's Nova Institute.

Global biopolymer production is expected to grow faster than overall plastics production, although it will remain a fairly niche product, rising from 1.5 percent of global production in 2011 to 3 percent in 2020, the study said.

That represents a more than tripling of biopolymer production globally, to 12 million metric tons in 2020 from 3.5 million metric tons in 2011, as biomaterials growth easily outpaces overall polymer production, the study said.

The analysis found a "considerably higher" level of biopolymer production than previously estimated, because it looked more broadly at the industry, examining 247 companies with 363 production sites around the world.

"The development of bio-based polymers is still very dynamic," said Michael Carus, managing director of the Hurth, Germany-based group. "Only five years ago, nobody would have expected bio-PET to grow to the biggest group among the bio-based polymers due to an initiative by one big brand-owner."

"This could happen again with any other bio-based polymer," said Carus, in a statement. "PLA and PHA also have a remarkable growth ahead of them, even without the existence of such a 'supply chain captain.'"

Nova said the fastest growth will come in bio-based "drop-in" versions of PET, polyethylene and polypropylene, and from new polymers PLA and PHA.

The study said each of the four major manufacturing regions – Asia, Europe, North America, and South America – would see growth, but it said Europe and North America would see their share of global production shrink.

Europe's global share is projected to drop from 20 percent to 14 percent, while North America's share is slated to fall more modestly, from 15 percent to 13 percent.

South America will grow from 13 percent to 18 percent, jumping from No. 4 to No. 2, while Asia will remain the largest producer, growing from 52 percent to 55 percent of global production.

"Every region of the world will experience development in the field of bio-based polymer production," the study said.

It said Asia has become a key region for the industry, noting developments in Thailand, India, Taiwan, mainland China and Japan. The study also said Asia will push development of drop-in biopolymers that can be run on existing equipment.

"The bio-based drop-in market is developing fast in Asia, where many converters are SMEs and cannot afford important alterations to their existing processing equipment," it said.

The study's survey was funded by 26 companies and institutions from 11 countries, which had access to the intermediate results. The report is available from Nova for 6,500 euros plus tax.