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BioPlastics: The Re-Invention of Plastics

03 June 2013

Alan Clarke from the Polymer Processing Research Centre attended the Bio Plastics: Re-Invention of Plastics conference in Las Vegas run by Innoplast Solutions Ltd. The conference was very well attended by approx. 300 American and European delegates. A number of interesting issues were discussed by the wide range of speakers throughout the 3 day conference. The speakers represented a number of well known material producers and end user companies as listed below:

NatureWorks, Coca Cola, IBM, DSM, Novamount, Purac, Braskem, Hallstar, Polyone, Goodyear, Nissan Chemical etc.

The term Bio Plastics means a number of different things to different people depending on their particular background and discipline i.e. Bio Medical Plastics, Bio-Degradable Plastics. The definition of Bio-Plastics in the case of this particular conference is summed up as Non Petroleum Derived Plastics / Polymers these may be bio-degradable or not and they may also be fully recyclable or not, depending on their end use application.

The source of the feedstock for the BioPolymer is an important consideration. The conference seemed split on this issue with some established companies using agriculture based products such as corn starch and sugar cane, while other companies were using waste products such as municipal waste or by products from natural oil pressings, such as palm or soya oils. The obvious question of using agricultural land for non food use was discussed and well defended by companies in that area.

The type of bio-plastic being developed was discussed with discussions taking place as to the best material. Again the conference seemed split on this with companies who produce reasonably well established biopolymers such PLA and PHA debating their points of view versus companies who are producing bio polymers such as Bio Polyethylene, Bio Polypropylene, Bio PET etc. Certainly from a processing point of view it would be preferable to use biopolymers with the same or similar properties to more conventional petroleum based ones.