Bioplastics – the North American agenda

Bioplastics – the North American…
Bioplastics Compounding & Processing 2012 is an international industry conference on the profitable use of bioplastics. It is scheduled on 8-9 May 2012 in Miami, USA.

There are several different meanings to the term “bioplastics” being used today including medical plastics, natural polymers (like collagen), biodegradable plastics, oxo-degradable plastics and plastics from renewable sources.

In North America the latter is the primary designation, whereas in Europe the compostable and biodegradable materials have been more highly rated.

Each continent has set up its own standards and labelling protocols to aid purchasing managers and consumers in understanding what they are buying into. A market study in 2009 by Utrecht University in Holland predicted a bio-based plastics market size of 2.3 million tonnes in 2013 including conventional polymers from renewable sources.

In the first half of 2011, Applied Market Information LLC organized an international conference in Miami, Florida for the plastics industry to discuss practical aspects of bioplastics use and disposal, Bioplastics Compounding and Processing 2011.

The program covered primarily the relatively new plastics derived from plants including PLA and polyesters like PHA, and suitable additives and processing technology, as parameters and performance have to be tailored for different applications.

The technology to produce these materials has been available for several decades, but polymer supplies have been limited and relatively expensive. With the current focus on sustainability coupled with the rise in oil prices and increasing output, there is now greater market interest.

Professor Ramani Narayan of Michigan State University is the leading US academic in this field with research on renewable carbon content, life cycle analysis (LCA), processing and degradability. He is the Scientific Chair of the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) in North America, and chairs the American standards ASTM committee on Environmentally Degradable Plastics and Biobased Products.

Narayan gave the keynote address at the Bioplastics Compounding and Processing conference and outlined the value proposition for plant-origin plastics: the reduction in CO2 emissions, renewable feedstocks, and the economic development of rural areas.

Crops and residues can be processed to give monomers, sugars and oils, which can be converted to PLA, PHA or conventional ethylene/propylene (via ethanol).

It is the carbon origin that gives environmental value, not the production processes. It takes more than a million years to fix the carbon in fossil sources like oil, whereas it only takes 1-10 years to fix carbon in plants, thus giving a sustainable carbon cycle. The current buzz in the industry is in the use of algae as sources, because of the rapid growth and short life cycle.

The standard ASTM D6866 gives test methods for determining the biobased carbon content of a product using radiocarbon analysis. The principle behind this is the carbon cycle where radiation generates C14 from N14 in the atmosphere.

This C14 is present in plants, but has decayed to C12 in fossil fuels, so by determining the C14 content of a polymer the percentage of renewable origin can be measured. This is the primary standard in use in the USA today.

The US government has set up a Biopreferred procurement system and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a “Certified Biobased Product” labeling program to guide purchasing.

Biodegradability is also subject to standards and testing. The time frame should be short and the polymer should be completely used up by microorganisms to qualify.


sent: 2012-02-12 10:24:02 Pretty sure Wellington now has a group. One pseron’s trash is another pseron’s treasure.


sent: 2012-03-12 22:08:18

Crunchy,As long as cigarette feltirs will not count as hazards to wild and domestic animals, I doubt ocean plastic dumping will raise much fuss.My thinking is that tobacco companies got caught lying about the dangers of smoke, of second hand smoke, of third hand smoke residue (residue deposited by cigarette smoke in vehicles, rooms, and on clothes that later causes bad effects). So now the 'conversation' is over. Those discarded cardboard and foil packages, the filter parts (containing residues of the cigarette as well as their chemical composition -- I don't see 'biodegradable' used to describe feltirs any time recently -- or non-toxic after use, either).I am completely sold on the notion that recycling is dangerous to America and the world - it burns tax dollars and oil. Even the recycling that is shipped to Mexico 'cause they don't have our EPA banning the processing.Recycling, by it's presence, gives permission to those making plastic stuff and those choosing plastics.And yet, there is the plastic cereal box liner -- when was the last time you got a box of corn flakes with bugs going wild? Zip-loc bags - each, when new, is sanitary.If not for plastic buckets - would that mean lots of metal buckets, with the cost in energy to mine, refine, manufacture, and transport the metal and metal products? I am thinking of the massive use of plastic 55 gallon barrels for oil products, for lead detector solution, etc. Paint buckets for the big jobs, in five gallon buckets.Aluminum was once called 'solid electricity', from the practice of building a hydroelectric generator/dam near a bauxite (aluminum ore) mine, to smelt the aluminum on-site.I remember years ago the angst over how much more energy a can with a pop-top took to make than a simple can that you used a can opener to puncture. It seems that conversation diet. But now, look at the number of two-liter soda and half-liter water bottles are churned out. Or disposable juice six-packs and eight-packs. With a market place seemingly addicted to plastic bottles - what is the alternative? The old 48 ounce juice cans can still be found, sometimes. How many people today have ever bought one? When single-serving frozen meals (TV dinners for us old-timers) moved from the oven to the microwave, they moved from aluminum foil to plastic - with plastic film tops.Is waxed paper still made with petroleum/plastic coating or paraffin, or still real wax? I doubt the wax part. And, again, how many homemakers have ever wrapped a lunch sandwich in waxed paper -- that was still 'sealed' when opened?I am not disputing that reducing plastic use is essential. What I don't see is a path forward.Using glass in the microwave works well. Also ceramic. But that pretty much eliminates the reduction of spoilage from single serving packaging. And also contradicts the single-serving lifestyle so many families seem addicted to (and the only heritage their children will realize).It seems that in order to diminish relying on plastics, you have to first dismantle the current lifestyle of endless ambition, and the corporate-like rush to efficiency.And stop recycling. It is 'false efficiency'.@ Beth Terry,I find the 'pure cornstarch' baby powder works pretty good.