Demand for ecofriendly plastics is gaining momentum around the world, and in an effort to stay ahead of the game, BASF AG has announced the expansion of its biodegradable plastics production plant in Ludwigshafen, Germany.
Jens Hamprecht, head of global business management for BASF biopolymers, made the announcement April 16 at the Bioplastics Markets conference, held April 16-17 in Shanghai by the Centre for Management Technology.
``This is a market that is very fast growing and there are very strong forces influencing it,'' Hamprecht said. ``We want to grow continuously and we want our customers to grow as well.''
The expansion is expected to increase annual production of the company's Ecoflex-brand biodegradable plastic from nearly 31 million pounds per year to 132 million pounds when the expansion is completed in 2010.
Ecoflex is used primarily for flexible films, bags used for biowaste, shopping bags and agricultural film. The company also is looking to expand the materials applications into food packaging, Hamprecht said. In each application, the material can be disposed of with biowaste.
``We use agricultural film to protect plants, particularly when they are young,'' Hamprecht said. ``With this, you don't have to take it off the plants - it degrades on its own.''
The strongest market for the product is currently in Western Europe, Hamprecht said. But BASF is seeing strong growth from Asia as well as North and South America.
Hamprecht said prices for Ecoflex remain higher than the product's nonbiodegradable alternatives. ``In this very young stage of the market, this is a specialty,'' he said.
BASF is augmenting its sustainability profile with a handful of other products. One of these, called Ecovio, is a biodegradable plastic containing (measured by weight) 45 percent polylactic acid. Another, Ultramid Balance, is a nylon 6/10 made from sebacic acid, which is derived from castor oil.
The company also is marketing a sustainable product specific to the Brazilian market, called Ecobras, which contains 50 percent vegetable polymer, derived from corn flour. Hamprecht said its main application is for flower and plant pots.