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Since its inception, plastics have been widely used in various fields of the national economy, such as the packaging industry and the disposable product industry, bringing great convenience to human production and life. However, its huge amount of use and waste has led to increasingly serious environmental pollution - "white" pollution, including river pollution, farmland mulch pollution and ocean plastic pollution.
White pollution mainly refers to plastics that are not easily degradable, and has the characteristics of high processing difficulty, difficult recycling and long-term damage to the environment.
Compared with the long degradation time of traditional plastics, the degradation time of degradable plastics is short, which can fundamentally solve this problem. At present, my country adopts degradable plastics as a solution to white pollution.
From the publication of the first patent on biodegradable plastics in the 1960s to the large-scale production in the 1990s, the research and development process of biodegradable plastics has gone through three stages: the first generation is starch-modified plastics, and the second generation is light and heat. Degradable plastic; the third generation is biodegradable plastic, which is also the focus of research and development by domestic and foreign researchers. Its characteristic is that its base material can be completely decomposed under the action of natural microorganisms.
According to a new market research report Biodegradable Plastics Market by Type (PLA, Starch Blends, PHA, Biodegradable Polyester), by End-Sector (Packaging, Consumer Goods, Textiles, Agriculture and Horticulture) and by Region (Asia Pacific, Europe , North America and Rest of World) - Global Forecast to 2026, the global biodegradable plastics market size is expected to grow from USD 7.7 billion in 2021 to USD 23.3 billion in 2026, with a compound annual growth rate from 2021 to 2026 The growth rate was 24.9%.
The impact of the new crown pneumonia epidemic on the global biodegradable plastics market
Degradable plastics are widely used in industries such as packaging, consumer goods, textiles, agriculture and horticulture. However, due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, application industries around the world have been affected. Labor shortages, logistical constraints, lack of material availability, and other constraints have all slowed the growth of the biodegradable plastics industry over the past year. Due to the outbreak and global spread of Covid-19, essential needs industries, such as the safe delivery of food and required supplies to consumers, have been increasingly impacted. For some packaging deemed non-essential, the global pandemic shock has led to a sharp drop in demand. On the other hand, there has been a huge increase in demand for basic packaging such as e-commerce shipments. These changes have created a new set of challenges for packaging companies.
BASF Germany is one of the leading market players. Its Performance Materials and Solutions segment produces biodegradable plastics for a variety of applications, such as automotive manufacturing, packaging, sports and leisure, medical technology, construction, solar thermal and photovoltaics. The company produces a fully synthetic biodegradable polyester. In addition, the company currently produces Ecoflex (PBAT), a synthetic biodegradable polyester. The company mixes PLA with Ecoflex for Ecovio. It has made joint operations a key strategy to keep it competitive in the global market.
Italy's Novamont is also one of the major players in the biodegradable plastics market. The company offers starch, PCL and other blends including polyesters and oils. It has a dominant patent portfolio and produces PBS, PBSA and PCL. In addition, Novamont has offices and networks in Germany, France, Benelux, Scandinavia, Denmark, United Kingdom, United States, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
So, what are the main biodegradable plastic manufacturers in the Chinese market?
According to the public information on the website of Meishan Municipal Government of Sichuan Province, Wanhua Chemical (Sichuan) Co., Ltd. has an annual output of 75,000 tons of polylactic acid integration project on March 22, 2022 for the first EIA announcement. This project is located in Meishan High-tech, Sichuan Province. Industrial park, the project mainly includes the construction of production workshops, warehouses, tank farms and other auxiliary facilities. After the project is completed, the annual output of polylactic acid will be 75,000 tons.
As early as 2018, Wanhua Chemical has formed a research team of 100 people to conduct research on the world-class technical problem - "synthesis of lactide". Under the leadership of Dr. Li Yuan, Vice President of Wanhua Central Research Institute, the Wanhua R&D team, after hard research and development, will advance the synthesis of lactide to the pilot stage in 2021. On March 22, 2022, Wanhua gathered The official announcement of the environmental impact assessment of the lactic acid project indicates that Wanhua has fully mastered the lactide synthesis technology and can realize large-scale production from lactic acid to polylactic acid.
In addition, Wanhua Chemical is also investing in the construction of a 60,000-ton PBAT project at the Meishan Base in Sichuan. The project is equipped with a 100,000-ton BDO production capacity and a natural gas-to-acetylene and formaldehyde plant. The project is expected to be put into operation in the first half of 2022. We believe that Wanhua still chooses to build an integrated low-cost project, and is expected to win in the future competition for degradable plastics by virtue of its industrial chain advantages.
The company will invest in the construction of a 120,000-ton/year PBAT degradable plastic project in 2021, with a planned investment of 4.4 billion yuan. After the project is completed and put into operation, the annual output of 1,4 butanediol (BDO) is 179,500 tons, adipic acid and terephthalic acid. 120,000 tons of butanediol ester (PBAT); 50,000 tons of N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP), 5,100 tons of by-product butanol, and 13,200 tons of tetrahydrofuran. The company has absolute competitiveness in cost control in the industry, and it is expected to expand its market share by virtue of cost advantages in the future when it enters the degradable plastics track.
Kingfa Technology began to deploy degradable materials as early as 2014. By the end of 2021, Kingfa Technology will have an annual production capacity of 120,000 tons of PBAT, making it one of the largest PBAT producers in China. In 2021, the sales volume of fully biodegradable plastics reached 79,700 tons, a year-on-year increase of 22.28%.
The company's advantage is that it has been dormant in the field of new materials for a long time. In 2004, Zhuhai Wantong Chemical Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of Kingfa Technology, began to develop and industrialize biodegradable plastics. Today, it has become a manufacturer that has obtained authoritative certification and is recognized by Europe and the United States. . Before 2020, new materials were mainly exported. In 2020, the domestic demand for degradable plastics will increase sharply. Kingfa Technology is a global leader in this technology, and is the only biodegradable plastic in Asia that has fully mastered the core technologies of polymerization, modification and terminal applications. Production enterprises, the current production capacity is as high as 60,000 tons/year, and after modification, it will reach 80,000 tons/year.
In addition, the company has announced that the production capacity of 30,000 tons of PLA can be put into operation in the second quarter of 2022, so the company will become the company with the largest production capacity of degradable plastics in China, and the company will continue to benefit from the tight supply of degradable plastics in China.
The driving force: Changing consumer preferences for environmentally friendly plastics
Increasing consumer awareness of sustainable plastic solutions and increasing efforts to eliminate the use of non-biodegradable conventional plastics will contribute to the market growth of biodegradable plastics. Traditionally used petroleum-based plastics take decades to break down or degrade, so they end up in landfills for long periods of time. In contrast, biodegradable plastics break down faster after being thrown away and can be returned to nature's systems. In addition, microbial activity breaks down biodegradable plastics much faster than conventional plastics.
Limitation: Biodegradable plastics are more expensive than conventional plastics
The cost of biodegradable plastics is higher than that of conventional polymers, which inhibits the growth of this market in many application areas. Generally speaking, the production cost of biodegradable plastics is 20-80% higher than that of conventional plastics. This is mainly due to the high cost of polymerizing biodegradable plastics, as most processes are still in the development stage and economies of scale have not yet been achieved.
Opportunity: Develop new applications
With increasing focus on sustainability and strong government regulation of green procurement policies, biodegradable plastics manufacturers have great opportunities in new end-use industries such as electronics, medical and automotive. Medical companies are investing heavily in research and development of biodegradable plastics for various applications in the medical industry, such as suture materials, screws and implants. Biodegradable plastics such as PLA and bio-based PBS can be used to manufacture medical devices and equipment. In the automotive industry, degradable plastics are used in tires along with starch-based materials to reduce fuel consumption. They can also make electrical equipment more efficient and economical. Packaging applications are also expected to witness significant growth in biodegradable plastics: biodegradable mulch is widely used in agriculture; food is also an important application area with high demands on biodegradable plastics, including trays, cutlery and cups.
Challenge: Performance Issues
Low barrier to air, water and oxygen and poor heat resistance are the main performance problems in biodegradable plastics. This limits its application expansion in various industries, including electronics and automotive. In addition, poor mechanical properties, such as low impact and tensile strength and process capability, also limit the penetration of biodegradable plastics in various applications. These performance limitations of biodegradable plastics have become major challenges for the growth of this market.
-Source: MarketsandMarkets, China Merchants Securities, Future Think Tank