Once the stuff of pure research, bioplastics have become a fast-growing business for marketers and technologists in the plastics industry mainstream. NPE2009, the central event in the industry's calendar, will stand as a milestone in this historical transition, according to The Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc. (SPI), producer of the triennial NPE.
Taking place June 22-26, 2009 at Chicago's McCormick Place, NPE2009 will be a showcase and technology exchange for polymers derived from corn, castor beans, soybeans, potatoes, tapioca, and other natural resources. Three raw material companies will report on new ventures for manufacturing bioplastics. Thirty-nine companies, agencies, and industry consortia will make conference presentations on bioplastics technology and business strategy. On the NPE show floor, there will be at least sixteen booths where bioplastics are either the only or a main feature of the exhibit (see table). And still other exhibitors will introduce additives and processing equipment designed specifically for these new types of polymer.
Unlike the crude oil- and natural gas-based petrochemicals used for producing conventional synthetic plastics, plant-derived substances are renewable, promising unlimited resources even as fossil fuels grow increasingly scarce. In addition, many bioplastics are inherently biodegradable.
“The dawn of the era of sustainability has brought with it a worldwide industry consensus on the need to proactively address issues such as resource depletion,” said SPI president and CEO William R. Carteaux. “Bioplastics have emerged as one of the most promising means for companies to carry out this strategy while operating profitably. Besides enabling businesses to comply with mandates for renewable resources, these exciting new polymer families will help ensure the long-term viability of our industry by providing an alternative to traditional raw materials.”
Bioplastics Take Center Stage in NPE2009 Conferences and Exhibits
While the majority of plastics will continue to be fossil fuel-derived for years to come, current research to improve the properties and reduce the cost of bioplastics will result in rapid growth in the marketplace, according to Melissa Hockstad, SPI vice president in charge of the Material Suppliers Council and the Bioplastics Council.
Hockstad cited three ventures into production of bioplastics that will be commercial or nearly so at the time of NPE2009:
• Cereplast Inc. expects early-2010 completion of a new manufacturing plant to produce bioresins made from starches derived from tapioca, corn, wheat, and potatoes.
• Telles, a joint venture of Metabolix and Archer Daniels Midland Co., is starting up a plant for its Mirel™ resins, produced from plant sugars in a process that involves chemical transformation by microorganisms.
• Teknor Apex Company will introduce its new Bioplastics Division and the first commercial compounds in its Terraloy™ range, consisting of blends of thermoplastic starch with other bioplastics and with conventional polymers like polypropylene.
The 39 conference presentations dealing specifically with bioplastics will take place in four educational programs co-located with NPE2009. These will include ten presentations in the “Business of Plastics” conference (produced by SPI); 26 in the ANTEC™ 2009 technical conference (the Society of Plastics Engineers, or SPE); two in the PET Strategies Plus conference (Packaging Strategies); and one in the Spanish-language Seminario Latinoamericano (Plástico and Conversión magazines).
Bioplastics will be one of four technologies to be the focus of exhibits in the Emerging Technologies Pavilion, with DuPont Company as the major pavilion sponsor and Dow Chemical Company as sponsor of a sector on sustainability. Some commercial applications of bioplastics are also expected to be among the entries in the first International Plastics Design Competition at NPE2009.
“At the last NPE in 2006, bioplastics were still something of a curiosity, but at NPE2009 literally dozens of organizations will have something important about bioplastics to say or demonstrate,” Hockstad said. “There will be implications for every major plastics market, from appliances and automotive, to electronics and medical, to sporting goods and packaging.”