<body> -------------------
Contact Us       Consulting       Projects       Our Goals       About Us
home » Archive » Bioeconomy
Nature Blog Network

    Spanish company Ferry Group is to invest €42/US$55.2 million in a project for the production of biomass fuel pellets in Bulgaria. The 3-year project consists of establishing plantations of paulownia trees near the city of Tran. Paulownia is a fast-growing tree used for the commercial production of fuel pellets. Dnevnik - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Hungary's BHD Hõerõmû Zrt. is to build a 35 billion Forint (€138/US$182 million) commercial biomass-fired power plant with a maximum output of 49.9 MW in Szerencs (northeast Hungary). Portfolio.hu - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Tonight at 9pm, BBC Two will be showing a program on geo-engineering techniques to 'save' the planet from global warming. Five of the world's top scientists propose five radical scientific inventions which could stop climate change dead in its tracks. The ideas include: a giant sunshade in space to filter out the sun's rays and help cool us down; forests of artificial trees that would breath in carbon dioxide and stop the green house effect and a fleet futuristic yachts that will shoot salt water into the clouds thickening them and cooling the planet. BBC News - Feb. 19, 2007.

    Archer Daniels Midland, the largest U.S. ethanol producer, is planning to open a biodiesel plant in Indonesia with Wilmar International Ltd. this year and a wholly owned biodiesel plant in Brazil before July, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The Brazil plant is expected to be the nation's largest, the paper said. Worldwide, the company projects a fourfold rise in biodiesel production over the next five years. ADM was not immediately available to comment. Reuters - Feb. 16, 2007.

    Finnish engineering firm Pöyry Oyj has been awarded contracts by San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. to provide services for the first bioethanol plant in the Philippines. The aggregate contract value is EUR 10 million. The plant is to be build in the Province of San Carlos on the north-eastern tip of Negros Island. The plant is expected to deliver 120,000 liters/day of bioethanol and 4 MW of excess power to the grid. Kauppalehti Online - Feb. 15, 2007.

    In order to reduce fuel costs, a Mukono-based flower farm which exports to Europe, is building its own biodiesel plant, based on using Jatropha curcas seeds. It estimates the fuel will cut production costs by up to 20%. New Vision (Kampala, Uganda) - Feb. 12, 2007.

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has decided to use 10% biodiesel in its fleet of public buses. The world's largest city is served by the Toei Bus System, which is used by some 570,000 people daily. Digital World Tokyo - Feb. 12, 2007.

    Fearing lack of electricity supply in South Africa and a price tag on CO2, WSP Group SA is investing in a biomass power plant that will replace coal in the Letaba Citrus juicing plant which is located in Tzaneen. Mining Weekly - Feb. 8, 2007.

    In what it calls an important addition to its global R&D capabilities, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is to build a new bioenergy research center in Hamburg, Germany. World Grain - Feb. 5, 2007.

    EthaBlog's Henrique Oliveira interviews leading Brazilian biofuels consultant Marcelo Coelho who offers insights into the (foreign) investment dynamics in the sector, the history of Brazilian ethanol and the relationship between oil price trends and biofuels. EthaBlog - Feb. 2, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan has announced its renewable energy target: 12% of all energy should come from renewables by 2020. The plan is expected to revitalise Taiwan's agricultural sector and to boost its nascent biomass industry. China Post - Feb. 2, 2007.

    Production at Cantarell, the world's second biggest oil field, declined by 500,000 barrels or 25% last year. This virtual collapse is unfolding much faster than projections from Mexico's state-run oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos. Wall Street Journal - Jan. 30, 2007.

    Dubai-based and AIM listed Teejori Ltd. has entered into an agreement to invest €6 million to acquire a 16.7% interest in Bekon, which developed two proprietary technologies enabling dry-fermentation of biomass. Both technologies allow it to design, establish and operate biogas plants in a highly efficient way. Dry-Fermentation offers significant advantages to the existing widely used wet fermentation process of converting biomass to biogas. Ame Info - Jan. 22, 2007.

    Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited is to build a biofuel production plant in the tribal belt of Banswara, Rajasthan, India. The petroleum company has acquired 20,000 hectares of low value land in the district, which it plans to commit to growing jatropha and other biofuel crops. The company's chairman said HPCL was also looking for similar wasteland in the state of Chhattisgarh. Zee News - Jan. 15, 2007.

    The Zimbabwean national police begins planting jatropha for a pilot project that must result in a daily production of 1000 liters of biodiesel. The Herald (Harare), Via AllAfrica - Jan. 12, 2007.

    In order to meet its Kyoto obligations and to cut dependence on oil, Japan has started importing biofuels from Brazil and elsewhere. And even though the country has limited local bioenergy potential, its Agriculture Ministry will begin a search for natural resources, including farm products and their residues, that can be used to make biofuels in Japan. To this end, studies will be conducted at 900 locations nationwide over a three-year period. The Japan Times - Jan. 12, 2007.

    Chrysler's chief economist Van Jolissaint has launched an arrogant attack on "quasi-hysterical Europeans" and their attitudes to global warming, calling the Stern Review 'dubious'. The remarks illustrate the yawning gap between opinions on climate change among Europeans and Americans, but they also strengthen the view that announcements by US car makers and legislators about the development of green vehicles are nothing more than window dressing. Today, the EU announced its comprehensive energy policy for the 21st century, with climate change at the center of it. BBC News - Jan. 10, 2007.

    The new Canadian government is investing $840,000 into BioMatera Inc. a biotech company that develops industrial biopolymers (such as PHA) that have wide-scale applications in the plastics, farmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Plant-based biopolymers such as PHA are biodegradable and renewable. Government of Canada - Jan. 9, 2007.

Creative Commons License

Friday, November 24, 2006

A closer look at bioplastics

Bioplastics offer roughly the same advantages as biofuels: they are made from renewable agricultural feedstocks, they offer a direct alternative to their fossil fuel based counterparts (which have become expensive), and they are more or less carbon-neutral. Moreover, as with biofuels, bioplastics can be used to enhance the agricultural productivity of soils where growing crops is difficult. In principle, the use of bioplastics allows for an entirely closed loop and cradle-to-cradle design: when a bioplastic product is discarded as 'waste', it becomes 'food'(fertilizer) for new biomass from which new products can be made.

The first European Bioplastics Conference 2006 which took place this week in Brussels and which attracted considerable interest, offers an opportunity to focus on the green plastics a bit more in-depth.

Renewable resources, beyond oil
Bioplastics represent a relatively new class of materials which have much in common with conventional plastics. What differentiates them is the use of renewable resources in their manufacture and the biodegradability and compostability of many bioplastics products.

Their development follows nature’s example: 100 billion tonnes of biomass are annually produced from plants, using sunlight and photosynthesis. The same amount biodegrades back into the source materials, carbon dioxide (CO2) and water, together with small amounts of biomass and minerals. This occurs primarily through biological degradation via numerous microbes. The bioplastics industry’s aim is to imitate this closed loop, as it represents the means by which environmentally-damaging CO2 emissions can be reduced and fossil resources conserved for future generations.

The crucial point is the utilisation of renewable resources. Bioplastics’ great advantage – the conservation of fossil resources and reduction in CO2 emissions – make them one of the most important innovations for sustainable development. Plastics, with their current global consumption of more than 200 million tonnes (EU approx. 40 mill. t) and annual growth of approx. 5%, represent the largest field of application for crude oil outside the energy and transport sectors. This 5% crude oil consumption may appear comparatively small, however it does emphasise how dependent the plastics industry is on oil. Price increases in crude oil and natural gas caused by strong demand and political conflict also have a marked effect on the plastics market. It is becoming increasingly important and pressing for this significant industry branch (worth €200 billion in all sectors of Europe) to utilise alternative raw materials:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Currently available bioplastics types cover approx. 5-10% of the current plastics market. In addition there are completely new applications such as compostable film products. This technical potential is nowhere near fully utilised. Bioplastics development is just beginning. Their market share is currently well under one percent (consumption estimate of the Association: approx. 50,000 t in Europe). The market is growing and in many application areas e.g. packaging or agricultural films, the number and quantity are increasing dramatically. Successful marketing strategies are based on clever utilisation of the materials’ functionality and appealing to the consumer through the highly positive image. Labelling has been developed to assist the consumer in recognising the products and distinguishing them from conventional plastics. The labelling is based on scientific criteria for biodegradability and compostability.

The competitiveness of bioplastics has greatly improved in the past few years. This is not only due to the fact that conventional plastics have become expensive. The technical properties or simplified recovery following consumption can also represent an economic advantage. Most products remain more expensive than crude oil based plastics which have been on the market for many years. Bioplastics are currently produced mainly in small production plants (total production capacity approx. 300,000 t worldwide). Their development costs are high and they do not yet have the benefit of "economies of scale".

Framework conditions – both legal and market – play a significant role in this market introduction phase. Unlike the areas of renewable energy and biofuels, there is no positive framework conditions. In individual EU countries the first initiatives are emerging to facilitate the introduction of bioplastics. The fact that the risk of climate change is becoming increasingly apparent, the difficulty of guaranteeing supply, together with price developments in fossil raw materials all represent serious reasons to promote sustainable technologies. For the EU, with its limited crude oil and natural gas resources, the increased utilisation of biomass as both an energy source and a raw material will be indispensable in the long term. Bioplastics have a great future ahead of them. The sooner it begins, the better.

Environmental Aspects

Plastics in general can be considered to perform well with respect to their environmental impact: These light weight materials make efficient use of resources and energy during their manufacture, transport and application. After use they provide a high energy that can be exploited in thermal recovery. Other recovery options can be applied too.

Bioplastics have the additional advantage of using renewable resources. This does not necessarily go along with an advantage over conventional plastics, but it has often proven advantageous when the criterias "consumption of fossil resources" and "reduction of CO2 emissions" are being assessed. Using agricultural resources also allows a regional closed loop management. The environmental performance however should be proven by standardised assessment criteria.

Especially in countries with lack of humus (arid-zones) the compostability of many of the products offers an additional advantage. They allow the production of compost, which can be used as fertiliser and substrate to improve the soil quality.

Even if many bioplastics are biodegradable they are not intended to be disposed of in nature. They must be recovered in a controlled and eco-efficient way. The European bioplastics industry has a clear anti-littering position.

Climate Protection

Today mainly man-made influences are considered to be reasons for climate change. Burning fossil resources increases the share of CO2 in atmosphere, which causes an increase of the average temperature (greenhouse effect). Scientists see a distinct connection between CO2 increase in atmosphere and the increase of number of thunderstorms, floods and aridity. Climate protection is nowadays a central part of environmental policy, due to the fact that climate change can create far-reaching negative consequences. Governments and organisations work against this threat with targeted measures.

The increased use of renewable resources is an important step towards a solution. Life cycle analysis show, that bioplastics enable a CO2 saving of 30 to 80% compared to conventional plastics. But this does not apply generally and inevitably, it depends on the product and application. The saving (in case of the same application) results from the use of renewable resources.

Plastics in general are considered to be „climate friendly“ materials: In comparison to materials such as metal or concrete they can be easily and without spending much energy produced, transported or used. In the sector of automotive engineering (lightweight construction) or as thermal insulating material plastics enable significant “secondary” effects by protecting resources and saving CO2. Examples for the successful use of bioplastics exist already: Goodyear’s car tyres hold a share of starch material, that decreases the tyre’s rolling resistance and are therefore able to also decrease fuel consumption.

Life-Cycle Economy and Life-Cycle Assessments

The principle of sustainable development and the missing landfill in Europe are reasons for the introduction of the closed loop economy in the European Union. Products have to be produced and used resource conserving and have to be recovered after use, if they cannot be avoided at all. Landfill of waste is not allowed anymore. Therefore the question of disposal already comes up during the development of a product. If easy to dispose materials are used for the production, the disposal cost will decrease and in consequence also the over all product costs.

Bioplastics have been developed according to these guidelines, in which composting is considered to bet the most cost-effective method of disposal. Only by using renewable ressources an actual closed loop can be realized.

Assessments of the impact of products on the environment require objective and standardized criteria. Life-cycle analyses complying with ISO 14040 are a suitable means of quantifying the impact of products on the environment. Their primary use in industry is to optimise process-engineering aspects of production with regard to the environment.

There are other tools that companies can employ to help them assess production methods and product performance as a way of describing environmental impact, for example EPD – Environmental Product Declaration. Basically, the entire life cycle of the product has to be considered – manufacture, use phase and disposal. With bioplastics, it is primarily the use of annually renewable raw materials in production that positively influences on energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Life-cycle analyses so far have shown that the values are at least 20% better than those for commodity polymers.

A preliminary calculation within the European Climate Change Program ECCP returns a primary CO2 savings potential of approx. 4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents. This figure is based on the assumption that the bioplastics market, given the appropriate supportive framework conditions, will have grown to around one million tonnes.

Recovery Options: Closed Loops

The objective of the EU to close material cycles has led to a different understanding and handling of the term waste: waste can be regarded as "raw material for new after life options". Bioplastics have been designed on the idea of a closed loop material management – like it is found in nature.Bioplastics can be recovered and recycled like conventional plastics by all available methods: thermal recovery, back to plastics and chemical recovery.

Unlike conventional plastics most bioplastics types can organically recycled by composting, provided that they comply with EN 13432 criteria. Diverse examinations and studies show that there is no "best" option in recovery and recycling for plastics. Ecological and economical evaluation results differ when regarding different application of plastics, even if the same resin type is regarded.

Composting is a useful and often preferred method for mulchfilm and biowaste bags, lso for gardening articles and shoppers offering the "second life option" of being also a organic waste bag. In all these applications biodegradability is an added value. Used food packaging can be processed with high eco-efficiency by composting, especially when short life easily spoiled food is packed. Then the packaging can be recovered together with the spoiled content without further treatment. Nevertheless the eco-efficiency is depending also on the given infrastructure at a place or in a region.

Short characterisation of recovery options for bioplastics:

* Thermal recovery: Using the high calorimetric value of the substance to produce heat and electricity (criteria of the legislation have to be met)
* Organic recycling (composting): The resulting compost is used to improve the soil quality and as a replacement of fertilisers
* Chemical recycling: Can be an option especially for polyester types like PLA or PHA. By chemical treatment the polymer chain can be de-polymerised, the resulting monomers can be purified and polymerised again. Sufficient amounts of source separated collected plastic waste is a pre-condition to apply this method. The same arguments apply for recycling back to plastics.


Many types of bioplastics can be composted. Microbes, like bacteria or funghii with their enzymes are able to "digest" the polymer chain structure as a source of nutrition. The resulting end products are water and carbon dioxide CO2 and a little biomass. It is the chemical structure of a polymer, especially the type of chemical bond, that defines whether and to what extend in given time microbes can biodegrade the material. This is the reason why also certain synthetic polymers can be composted – but most others (polyolefines like PE, PP, PS, PET) not.

The speed of biodegradation depends on:

* Temperature (50-70°C are typical for a industrial composting process)
* Humidity – water is required for the process
* The number and types of microbes

Only if all three pre-requirements are given the speed of degradation is fast. In the food supply chain, in supermarkets or at home biodegradation occurs at a very low speed in comparison to composting. If one is missing degradation is almost blocked.

In a industrial composting facility certified bioplastic products are converted into biomass, water and CO2 within 6-12 weeks. Such facilities exist in many EU countries and regions, e.g. Germany, Netherlands, Scandinavia, parts of Belgium, Northern Italy – have a look on the website of the European Composting Network. Organic household waste is collected by source separation from residual waste, e.g. in biobins (Abbildung), and treated in composting plants to produce quality compost. 30% (weight) of the household waste is of organic origin, e.g. food scraps or gardening waste. Compostable bioplastic products can make use of the existing composting infrastructure and thus be recycled organically – in a very cost efficient way. However compliance with the composting system has to be proven: This has to be done by fulfilling the standardised test criteria of EN 13432. For the approval and labelling of bioplastics products based on EN 13432 the industry together and other involved parties have developed a certification scheme.The combined recovery and organic recycling of compostable bioplastic products (here: packaging) together with organic household waste has been examined in the Kassel project 2001-2003.

Bioplastics and Agriculture

Bioplastics and agriculture are closely related to each other:

* agricultural feedstocks („renewable resources“) play an important role in manufacturing bioplastics
* bioplastic products find meaningful application areas in agriculture
* composting bioplastics and using the compost in agriculture allows to close the loop – conform to the system.

Today it is important for Europe’s agriculture to delelop cultivation and income alternatives in the non-food sector. About 50 million hectares in Europe (EU 25) are not needed for food production anymore („set aside area“). The European Union is reducing the subsidies for food production and in consequence many jobs in agriculture are at risk. The production of renewable resources by non-food cultivation offers a way out. Biomass can be used in industrial and energetic non-food markets.

Agricultural potential
Agriculture offers an enormous potential: One hectare farmland can produce about two tons of bioplastics. This means – in theory – that more than Europe’s entire plastic consumption could be based on local biomass production. This holds an attractive market potential for agricultural resources from starch plants (corn, potatoes, wheat etc.) and sugar (sugar beets), and also from vegetable oil (rapeseed, sun flower, castor oils) or wood (celluloses). Assuming a future market share for bioplastics of 10% of the plastics market translates into consumption of about 10 million tons of sugar or starch, about 10% of the available non-food area would be required. Thereby bioplastics could contribute to stabilizing agricultural markets and to save jobs as well as incomes in agriculture in liberalised markets. An essential role for agriculture plays the added value of the plastics sector (today plastics often cost more than €1,200/tonne) compared to the biomass use in the sector for engergy recovery.

Agriculture itself can apply bioplastic:

* Agricultural mulching film: Biodegradable mulching films can be ploughed into the ground after use, this also decreases disposal and labour costs.

* Horticulture and vegetable gardening: Diverse products are possible – some examples: film for banana plants which have to be protected from dust and environmental stress; equipment for fastening; plant pots for sprouting; fertiliser sticks or pheromone traps, all of them do not have to be removed after use.

To close the loop it is best to use compost, that originates from bioplastic products, as fertiliser and as a soil enhancer in agriculture.

More information:

-Bioplastics model project: Kassel
-Industry association: European bioplastics
-BioMatNet: Biological Materials for Non-Food Products network
-Overview on different biobased polymer types, Cranc, M., Patel, M., et al., "Techno-economic Feasibility of Large-scale Production of Biobased Polymers in Europe"
-EU Council Directive on waste (75/442/EWG)
-European Commission: Renewable Raw Materials Working Group
-European Commission, Environment: Thematic Strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home