The global biopolymer films market, in terms of volume is expected to exceed 17 million tons by 2022. It had a market demand of 5 million tons in 2013. Preference for renewable materials in an attempt to reduce pollution levels is a prominent factor driving this industry. Bio-based polymers such as PTMT (polytrimethylene terephthalate), TPS (thermoplastic starch), PLA (polylactic acid), and PHA (polyhydroxyalkonoates) could witness high demand over the forecast period (2016-2024).
Biopolymers are polymers made from renewable sources. They are environment-friendly since they are manufactured from plant or animal products. Also classified as bioplastics, biopolymers help reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Plasticizers are added to these polymers for better flexibility & strength. Polysaccharides, proteins, and lipid compounds are the raw materials used to produce these polymers. Demand for biopolymers stems from price competitiveness and regulations favoring commercial composting processes. Cost constraints and the availability of raw materials are factors that could impede market growth. However, this can be resolved if chemical companies collaborate with agribusiness companies to produce biopolymers.
The worldwide biopolymer films market is fragmented according to products, applications, and regions. Products include PLA, PHA, biodegradable starch blends, biodegradable polyesters, bio PET (polyethylene terephthalate), and bio PE (polyethylene). PLA had a market demand of over 300 kilo tons in 2014. It is mainly employed in food applications, such as hot seal overlays, twist wrap, and flow wrap. PLA exhibits elasticity, stiffness, hardness, and impact strength akin to conventional thermoplastics.
Additionally, PLAs can hold or retain creases just like paper or foil. This could generate significant demand in the forthcoming years. Currently, PLA/Chitosan or PLA/Pectin based biopolymer films are used extensively in antimicrobial packaging. They restrict the growth of Lactobacillus plantarum, a food pathogen. Bio PET is expected to be the most widely used biopolymer film during the forecast period.
PHAs are gradually gaining popularity in the global market because they are eco-friendly. They are extracted from bacterial cells and are processed via extrusion. Their applications include performance additives, adhesives, packaging, and non-woven fabrics. Most prominent global PHA producers are Metabolix, Inc.; Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Company Inc.; and Biomer.
Edible polymers are manufactured from polysaccharides, lipids, and proteins. They have an advantage over synthetic polymers on account of being edible along with the product. Gelatin capsules are a prime example of edible polymers. These capsules contain medicines in powdered or liquid form.
Based on applications, the global market is segmented into flexible packaging, rigid packaging, automotive, textiles, consumer goods, agriculture & horticulture, and others. Flexible packaging could be the largest application segment in the years to come. It will have a capacity of nearly 27 million tons by 2024. The market would grow at a CAGR over 3.8% in the forecast period. This segment may generate more than USD 106 billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR above 4.2% over the next eight years.
Demand for flexible packaging may drive market demand. Flexible packaging offers benefits, such as additional shelf life and preservation. This could be of considerable interest to pharmaceutical & F&B (food & beverages) industries. Biopolymer films made of pineapple leaf fiber are mainly used for packing freshly processed vegetables. This fiber is inexpensive and abundantly available. It helps reduce the negative effects of polymeric films.
Biopolymer films used in agriculture & horticulture are known as mulch films. These prevent the loss of humus and provide soils with the right quantities of carbon. Environmental concerns and low labor costs will drive the demand for this segment. Innovation in mulch films and substantial government subsidies may result in high demand. PET jars and bottles are the applications of rigid plastic packaging. Biopolymer films are used in medical textiles to treat injuries. These products are blended with collagen, chitin/Chitosan, and carbon fibers. They can relieve pain and also absorb bad odors.
Another major product application is the protection of meat and other poultry products from spoilage. Most biopolymers meant for wrapping purposes are derived from either soy or corn starch. Lysozyme and Nisin have been used in conjunction with EDTA (Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) in corn starch & soy based films to prevent bacterial growth. Since they inhibit the growth of pathogens, Chitosan based biopolymers are used for packing poultry products; such as chicken. Gelatin based biopolymer films are used for packing smoked chicken. It is derived from chitin, an element found in the skeletons of shellfish. It can reportedly reduce bacterial growth by almost 90% in chicken drumsticks.
Regions in the global biopolymer films market are Europe, Asia Pacific, North America, and Rest of the World (RoW). Europe and North America should have significant market shares owing to consumer awareness and regulations supporting the use of biopolymer films. Europe in particular, favors sustainable packaging and establishes regulations that encourage regional companies to use bio-based raw materials. France, Italy, and Germany are the key countries that contribute to regional growth. With a strong regional presence in the packaging market, Asia Pacific has considerable potential for further growth.
Prominent players in the biopolymer films market are Toyota Tshuho Corporation, NatureWorks, Toray Industries, and Tagleef Industries. Other major players include Braskem S.A., NatureWorks LLC, Metabolix, Inc., and BASF SE. New product development and partnerships are the two main strategies that most companies resort to. ‘Nanocomposite materials’ will be the main area of focus of the global market during the forecast period. These materials can prolong shelf life of products and offer protection even in extreme weather conditions. Nanocomposite materials may be used in applications, such as food & beverages and drug delivery.
Metabolix has launched a new line (Mirel) of biopolymer films which are compatible with other biopolymers such as PHA and PLA. Mirel PHA coatings can be used for cardboard and paper. Mirel a-PHA acts as an additive to PLA to create bio based containers used in food & packaging. Toray Industries has introduced a technology that exhibits ‘plasticizer bleeding’ when exposed to external factors. This could lead to better growth opportunities in the overall market. Toyota Tshuho produces bio PET resins from sugarcane. Products made from this resin are currently replacing conventional PET products.
Research Support Specialist, USA