The recession has molded the bioplastics industry into a stronger contender

THE GLOBAL bioplastics industry has proven its flexibility in navigating the recession, as companies restructured, delayed projects or significantly cut costs.

A big accomplishment for the industry last year was that not one major player filed for bankruptcy or completely disappeared, notes Frederic Scheer, chairman and CEO of US-based bioplastic maker Cereplast.

“There were a lot of business activities that still happened last year for our industry, which is remarkable at a time when the chemical industry in general and the plastic market in particular were suffering tremendously from the recession,” he says.

Germany-based trade group European Bioplastics pointed out some of the major activities in 2009, such as US producer NatureWorks doubling its polylactic acid (PLA) production capacity to 140,000 tonnes/year; German chemical major BASF introducing new biodegradable plastics for coating paper and shrink film; and Italy-based Novamont launching its second-generation bioplastic Mater-Bi, as well as boosting capacity to 80,000 tonnes/year.

A bioplastics study by Netherlands-based Utrecht University, which was jointly commissioned by European Bioplastics and research body the European Polysaccharide Network of Excellence, and published in June 2009, projected global bioplastic capacity to increase to 2.3m tonnes by 2013 from around 360,000 tonnes in 2007, based on company announcements.

“Important major projects were delayed in 2008 and 2009 due to the financial and economic crisis,” said Hasso von Pogrell, managing director of European Bioplastics, in a statement. “Despite the still uncertain data, the study shows the enormous potential for bioplastics.”

US market research firm Freedonia released its global ­bioplastic study in November, projecting that global demand in 2013 would increase to 900,000 tonnes from the 200,000 tonne estimated level in 2008. Jim Lunt, managing director for US consulting firm Jim Lunt & Associates estimates the current global production capacity for bioplastics at 300,000 tonnes.

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