What’s New in the Bioplastics and Biomaterials World? *

Look at the Amazing New Biomaterials Categories Being Discovered


Edible seaweed pods that hold drinking water.  Inedible banana leaves around perishable food.  3D printing from corn starch.  Diapers made from eucalyptus wood. 

Those are just a few examples of sustainable products being brought to the market place.  Companies are trying to meet buyer demand for green products and are pursuing new solutions that downplay our reliance on petroleum-based plastics by providing alternatives that are sourced from plants.


New Emerging Biomaterials Are Being Adopted


The scope of the sources of new sustainable products is wide-ranging.  At this time, applications are mostly  centered on packaging, consumer goods and some building materials.  Many companies are finding ways that fossil fuel-based plastics can be swapped out entirely for materials found in nature.

In many “plant-based” products, though, the “plant” material is actually a form of bioplastic.  These are materials created when the carbon in the carbon-containing compounds is sourced from plants rather than oil or gas.  These can come from corn to sugar to rice to vegetable oils instead.

While most bioplastics have a lower carbon footprint than conventional plastics, there’s still a debate over whether sourcing from some of these crops diverts productive food to other uses. There is also dissent about the fact that not all bioplastics are biodegradable or compostable.


Record Amounts of New Biomaterials Are Being Chosen

The global bioplastics market recorded a market valuation of more than $4 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach a value of 14.92 billion by 2023.


It’s Amazing How Quickly Biomaterials Adoption is Growing


To give us some context about the growth of biomaterials use.  According to market data compiled by the research institute nova-Institute and European Bioplastics.  Global bioplastics production capacity is set to increase from around 2.11 million metric tons in 2018 to about 2.62 million metric tons in 2023.

That’s compared to about 335 million metric tons of petroleum-based plastic produced annually.  As you can see, while bioplastics represent less than 1 percent of the total market, their growth is projected at 20-30 percent per year.  According to market research, the global bioplastics market recorded a market valuation of more than $4 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach a value of $14.92 billion by 2023.


These Amazing Biomaterials Categories Are Emerging


These are some of the emerging biomaterial categories driving the news about “plant-based” products that have made headlines during the first half of 2019.  The sources touted range from large commercial crops to marine life to ancient grains.

These innovations are coming from established companies to startups and can be found all around the world.  Our information is arranged alphabetically according to it’s foundational source.  The list contains examples of notable developments in the bio-based products space.


See How Science is Creating Amazing New Biomaterials From Algae


The use of algae and seaweed as feedstocks for biomaterials is among the newer innovations.  Being easy to grow and readily available, Algae use as a base for plastics could make a lot of sense.  Several entrepreneurs have also developed algae-based biomaterials that could be used for 3D printing. That breakthrough could have promise in affecting how consumer goods are bought, sold and packaged.

The main advantage of algae is that it doesn’t compete for agricultural land.  It can also be made into bioplastics that are flexible and durable, more resistant to microwave radiation and almost always fully biodegradable in natural environments.

This market is still developing since many products are still in their research phases.  However, here are some early notable standouts.


How Science Creates Amazing New Biomaterials From Corn


Turning corn into bioplastics is popular in the United States because of corns abundance.  Corn starch can be turned into polylactic acid (PLA), a transparent, biodegradable thermoplastic polyester. It is also a biomaterial that can be used in 3D printing. Corn was one of the earliest crops to be converted into biomaterials, so products made from those materials have been widely commercialized — although the monoculture crop isn’t always the best for the environment. Here are some notable corn-based ventures.


How Science Creates Amazing New Biomaterials From Grasses


Wheatgrass, elephant grass and flax can all be used as a source for many plant-based applications.  Some related products and their creators include:


How Science Creates Amazing New Biomaterials From Hemp


Recently legalized in the United States, industrial hemp is emerging with many promising uses.  These include everything from building materials to textiles to consumer goods.  Startups and mainstream brands are partnering to make innovative new products.

  • Hempitecture has been developing hempcrete as a building material. The bio-composite material is a mixture of hemp and lime and can be used for sustainable construction and insulation.
  • Hemp has fibrous properties that make it a great textile.  It’s being used by hemp-specific brands such as Hempest, as well as bigger companies such as Patagonia for clothingbags, jewelry and even Hemp Eyewear.
  • Hemp is used in soaps because of its essential fatty acid (EFA) content, replacing petroleum-based oils and plastics.  Dr. Bronner’s, the leading sustainable soap brand, uses hemp in many products.


How Science Creates Amazing New Biomaterials From Soy


Soybeans and soybean oil are being used to make a variety of alt-plastics.  Their industrial products such as foams, adhesives, coatings and inks.  Consumer uses include personal care product thickeners, edible films and even in meat alternative foods.

Soy-based bioplastics are incredibly versatile, and can take on different durabilities and strengths.  That means that not all are biodegradable nor compostable.  Many companies use soy as plant-based products, here’s a small sampling.

  • Ford uses a soy-based foam in the cushions in its cars.  Ford is also working with José Cuervo, to turn an agave byproduct into bioplastics for various vehicle components.
  • Goodyear has used a soy oil-based compound in its tire treads, replacing petroleum oil. According to Goodyear, this product will be commercially available soon.
  • Eco-company EarthGrown Crayons uses soy wax as a non-toxic plastics alternative in their coloring products.
  • Manufacturer Cox Industries has Soybase Clean, a line of soy-based and biodegradable industrial cleaning and degreasing products.


How Science Creates Amazing New Biomaterials From Sugar


Sugar can be turned into a variety of alternative plastics because of it’s unique chemical properties. Sugar cane, sugar beet and bagasse are popular sources due to their starchiness.  Sugar can be used as source material for the bioplastic PLA, the most popular type of bioplastic. Its uses range from packaging and other industrial applications.

Some major players and notable startups:

  • Braskem a Brazilian petrochemical company uses Brazilian sugar cane to make bioplastics.  It’s  material can be used in packaging.
  • A well-known sugar cane-based product has been Coca-Cola’s sugar cane-based PET bottle called PlantBottle about a decade ago. 
  • The sugar cane-based material used to make PlantBottle was also used in Heinz and Proctor & Gamble packaging, some Nike products and the interior of the Ford Fusion’s Energi Plug-In Hybrid. 
  • The massive chemical producer BASF has developed a compostable sugar-based bioplastic, ecovio, that can be made into products ranging from agricultural film to compostable coffee capsules.
  • BioPak an Australian startup uses sugar cane to produce bioplastic food packaging supplies, mostly as a B2B service to other companies. 
  • French based Lyspackaging is producing sugar-based packaging, this in the form of the Veganbottle, which is industrially compostable and a water bottle alternative.
  • BIO-ON an Italian bioplastics company makes sugar-based bioplastics with a range of applications.
  • Anandi Eco+ is an Indian-based that uses locally sourced bagasse, banana fiber, water hyacinth and jute to create sanitary pads.


How Science Creates Amazing New Biomaterials From Wood


Wood from a variety of tree species is a natural substance used for building materials and other products. It’s not a “new” solution to plastics, however different types of wood-based pulps and composites can provide equally durable and moldable products that are being developed as alternatives to petroleum-based plastics.

You could debate whether this approach is more sustainable than the alternative.  Responsible sourcing of the lumber and timber is critical, however deforestation is another leading cause of climate change.  A variety of wood products from different kinds of trees are cropping up, from palm to bamboo to eucalyptus to traditional lumber sources.

  • German company Tecnaro created a bioplastic called Arboform, derived from wood pulp-based lignin that can be mixed with hemp, flax or wood fibers and other additives such as wax to create what it calls “liquid wood”.  It can be injected into molds such as plastic, yet biodegrades over time. 
  • Origin Materials uses wood or wood-based products to produce what it claims is the “world’s first carbon-negative PET.” 
  • Dyper produces eco-based diapers made from bamboo that are biodegradable and avoid potential toxics from plastics.
  • Bamboo-based toothbrushes are also gaining in popularity.  Several are available as eco-products, online and in stores, via brands such as BrushWithBamboo and Green Root Bamboo Toothbrushes.
  • Biodegradable glitter?  The cosmetic and craft shiny particles are usually made from plastic.  The brands Blue Sun and partner, Cosmetic Bioglitter, have used eucalyptus sources to create plastic-alternatives that biodegrade in natural environments.


The Plant Based Biomaterials Field is New But Growing


While the world of “plant-based” products is still relatively young, the field is growing very quickly.  With the rapid pace of technological developments and growing investment in the bio-economy, businesses should expect to see far more bioplastics options coming to market in the very near future.


Calculate Your Carbon Footprint


If you would like to calculate your Carbon Footprint, follow the link to the free carbon footprint calculator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.  


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