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Biobased Plastics Scenario 2050 - plastics made from renewable resources

A “2050 scenario - plastics made from renewable resources (bio-based plastics)” has been developed. The hypothetical target of this scenario is for bio-based plastics to have a 100 % market share of product manufacturing in the EU. The scenario provides the basis for further national RTI activities and for recommendations for regulation.

Short Description

Biobased plastics
Biobased plastics (alchemia-nova)

Starting point/Background

Although a great many developments have taken place in the bio-based plastics sector, the market share of these plastics is still comparatively small. Despite a steady increase up to middle of this decade – through the implementation of NAWARO projects and the development of alternatives to oil – there is now almost a counter trend running in the opposite direction. With low oil prices, bio-based plastics are currently barely competitive and used almost only for specific niche applications.

Content and objectives

Against this background, a "2050 scenario - plastics made from renewable resources (bio-based plastics)" has been developed. The hypothetical target of this scenario is for bio-based plastics to have a 100 % market share of product manufacturing in the EU.

Methodology

Using research into literature and on the internet, and with the help of an expert workshop, the state of the art and current knowledge as well as the barriers to the use of bio-based plastics were described. In a top-down approach the demand for plastics was calculated for the scenario, on the basis of the EU demand for plastics in 2015 (49 Mt) and an estimated market growth of 2.6 %. As an alternative, another scenario assuming an annual market growth of 0.5 % was introduced. A rough estimate of bioplastic quantities achievable by 2050 was carried out, using a bottom-up approach based on the amount of biomass potentially available in Europe, on competition for biomass use and on conversion factors described in the literature. At a final feedback workshop, a pathway to the 2050 target of the bio-based plastics scenario was deliberated on with experts from science, business and administration, and discussions were held on the effectiveness of recommendations and the need for research. With the help of relevant stakeholders and their inputs, a pathway was developed for the scenario up to 2050, consisting of four intermediary stages with a timeline of recommendations and describing the need for relevant research.

Results

Assuming a market growth rate of 2.6%, the gap in 2050 between the demand for virgin bio-based feedstock and bioplastic supply (according to the pathway developed) amounts to 37 Mt. Although this gap is expected to become smaller, if one assumes that the plastics processing industry will grow by a mere 0.5 %, it will still amount to around 10 million tonnes of bio-based plastics. To close the gap, the demand for virgin feedstock has to be further reduced (demand side), while the quantity of bio-based plastics available has to be increased (supply side).

To reduce the demand for feedstocks (demand side), it would above all be necessary to extend the life of products (e.g. by introducing a reuse und circular design) and to change consumer behaviour. An improved technical performance and an application-oriented optimisation of the properties of bio-based plastics, especially in terms of their recyclability, would also be necessary. High recycling rates (preventing uncontrolled releases, avoiding disposal in landfills, incineration only at the end of the supply chain) have been considered in the scenario as far as possible, in line with existing EU requirements.

An increase in the availability of bio-based plastics (supply side) could be achieved by increasing the efficiency in the conversion of raw materials to biopolymers and by increasing biomass availability, while at the same time respecting the principles of sustainable agriculture and forestry. With R & D, new bio-based plastics with better conversion factors can deliver considerable quantities of bio-based plastics for a broad range of applications, for example by optimising the cultivation and production of PHAs, and through continued research on lignocellulose and cellulose derivatives, the logistics for the provision of raw materials, research into processing steps and the distribution and recycling of bio-based plastics and bio-based plastics produced from autotrophic microorganisms, and the use of CO2 through technical-chemical processes and renewable energy (surplus electricity).

From an expert point of view the following factors are relevant if an appreciable increase in the market share of plastics made from renewable resources is to be achieved:

  • networking between areas of research and industry, traders supporting product development, recycling companies, agriculture, raw material providers, teaching & training, and social issues;
  • information and awareness raising in industry and among manufacturers, product designers and designers of process flows, large-scale consumers & processors of plastics, and targeted public relations (communication);
  • regulations defining specific applications for bio-based plastics with demonstrably better scores in life cycle assessments;
  • economic differentiation between fossil and biogenic plastics through fiscal control mechanisms (e.g. incentive systems, higher taxes/less support for fossil-based plastics/fossil plastics for specific applications).

The scenario provides the basis for further national RTI activities and for recommendations for regulation.

Project Partners

  • Umweltbundesamt GmbH
  • alchemia-nova GmbH

Contact Address

Helmut Frischenschlager
Tel.: +43 (1) 313 04 - 5519
E-Mail: helmut.frischenschlager@umweltbundesamt.at

Veronika Reinberg
Tel.: +43 (1) 810 1000-4
E-Mail: reinberg@alchemia-nova.net

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