Polylactic acid (PLA) bioplastics production could increase to 1m tonnes per year by 2020, a Germany-based research firm has claimed.
The nova-Institut, which conducts research in an effort to advance the use of renewable raw materials, expects production of the material to increase to around 800,000 tonnes per year by 2020.
However, managing director of the nova-Institut, Michael Carus told FoodProductionDaily.com that, taking into account the emergence of new players in the market, PLA production capacity is likely to be closer to 1m tonnes by 2020.
PLA production capacity currently stands at around 180,000 tonnes per year, of which food and beverage packaging currently accounts for around 70% of demand.
According to Carus, demand for PLA bioplastics will increase in coming years as the material becomes cheaper and improvements in packaging properties lead to an increase in the number of possible applications.
Production increase, price decrease
“In terms of food and beverage packaging, there are currently only a certain number of firms using PLA bioplastics – mainly because it is more expensive than polypropylene (PP),” said Carus.
But as production capacity and PLA supply increases in coming years, the materials will become cheaper. This will coincide with an increase in the price of fossil-based materials such as polypropylene (PP).
“In future, many, many more companies will begin using this material in packaging as PLA becomes cheaper,” he said.
Technological improvements made to the material will also increase the applicability of PLA.
“PLA has good oxygen barrier properties, so it is great for food packaging. But the heat resistance of it is currently limited to around 50 or 60 degrees – so it can’t be used to produce coffee cups for instance. But new, improved versions of PLA have been tested up to 250 degrees,” said Carus.
“This could lead to an increase in the number of applications PLA can be used for.”
“Fifty years ago, nobody though that polypropylene could be used on such a large scale. But after years and years of development, it is now pretty much used for everything. So it is realistic to say that PLA can do the same. In 30 years it could be in the same position as polypropylene,” he added.
According to the nova-Institut, there are currently 25 companies at 30 sites across the world producing PLA.
Global PLA production capacity currently stands at around 180,000 tonnes per year, of which US-based NatureWorks accounts for 140,000 tonnes. Other smaller producers account for the rest with capacities of between 1,500 tonnes and 10,000 tonnes per year.
By 2020, however, the nova-Institute expects there to be at least seven sites in the world with a production capacity of over 50,000 tonnes per year.
But NatureWorks is still likely to reign over the PLA market despite the emergence of other producers, said the nova-Institut MD.
“In the future we expect more producers with bigger capacities. Naturework will have more competition in terms of production, but it will still be number one for the next 20 to 30 years in the PLA bioplastics market,” he said.