Two clear routes seem to be emerging for commercialization of bioplastics in the United States. One is the production of ethylene from sugar feedstock that is chemically identical to ethylene made from fossil fuel feedstocks. Coca-Cola has been leading the charge, using the material in the production of PET for soda bottles.
The second approach, emerging more slowly—and with less potential—is use of renewably sourced plastics as alloying materials to make engineering plastics. DuPont has led the charge in this approach with the mantra that it has no interest in introducing new green plastics unless they offer improvements over competitive materials. One example is Sorona, made partially from corn, which DuPont says “exists in the sweet spot where performance and sustainability intersect.” Market acceptance has been good in fibers, but very slow in engineering applications.
Possibly even more promising seems to be efforts by leading compounders to toughen up polylactic acid and other bioplastics.
Terraloy compounds from Teknor Apex are said to provide similar or greater strength, stiffness, and heat distortion temperature in comparison with standard polycarbonate (PC), ABS, and PC/ABS blends while incorporating 40 and 36% levels of bio-based content.
Potential applications for the new compounds include injection molded housings, handles, covers, and other components of electronic devices, medical equipment, and consumer products.
PolyOne has developed resound bio-based formulations based on a minimum of 30% bio-derived content combined with traditional engineering thermoplastics to extend the performance characteristics of bio-derived materials and enable their use in durable applications.
RTP is also working on development of engineering compounds that include bioplastics. A. Schulman has also had some activity.
There will certainly be other routes to commercialization for bioplastics in the United States. There will be a role in packaging, but probably not as large as once envisioned because of slow development of commercial composting facilities. The collapse of Telles signaled the problems in that area.
Reduced costs for natural gas also boost the cost premium for bioplastics over polyolefins.