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Ecomann seeing success with PHA-based mulch film

By: Rebecca Kanthor
PLASTICS NEWS CORRESPONDENT

June 3, 2014

SHANGHAI — Biobased plastics manufacturer Ecomann Biotechnology Co. reported that its mulch film has seen huge demand in China and Europe, according to managing director Luke Zhong, who spoke to Plastics News at the China International Biobased Technology and Partnering Conference, where he was also a speaker.

He said the Shenzhen, China-based company, which manufactures 5,000 tons of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) and 25,000 tons of compounds with other biobased materials a year in Shandong, is finally seeing success with its mulch film after three years on the market.

For the company overall, “last year was pretty good and this year has seen a big increase in sales,” he said. “[The mulch film is] not our biggest product, but in the future it should be our biggest value. The volume for mulch film in China is more than 1 million tons per year.”

The reason behind the film’s success came as a surprise to the company.

“The farmer [was] getting high yield [and] we cannot explain it,” Zhong said.

When the company investigated, they found that PGPR bacteria in the biodegradeable film was helping plants, especially peanuts, grow.

“It is unique,” Zhong said. “It is not only biodegradeable, it can also increase the yield. It’s a big advantage.”

The company now markets it as “smart eco-mulch film.”

“Our PHA film has good barrier properties as other films, but our PHA film’s moisture vapor barrier properties is not as good as [polyethylene], so moisture transfer through PHA film is easier than PE film.  But for the plant this is better because the plant can breathe, especially in the summer [because] it keeps the ground in the field cooler.”

The company also is seeing big demand for engineered plastics. Zhong said Ecomann plans on increasing its PHA capacity to 75,000 tons in the next two years and will build a new facility for PHA on land it has purchased in Shandong to be finished in 2015.

Zhong reiterated his company’s commitment to biobased and biodegradable plastics. “I think there’s no point to use biobased material to make non-biodegradable material. We should use biodegradeable material for this market.

But the big names are only interested in biobased, not biodegradeable, he said.

 He explained the industry leaders position. “For one thing the biodegradeable properties are not as good as the traditional plastics,” he said.  “Traditional PE is too mature, perhaps they don’t want to invest too much in the new biodegradeable materials.”

 But Zhong said that it depends on the product and that many products, especially single-use products that do not need to be made of as strong material. Cars might need non-biodegradable material, but cell phones that are only used for two to three years would be suitable.

“It’s good enough,” he said, referring to the biodegradable material. “You’re not making rockets.”