- Polymer producer sustainability targets coupled with brand owner and consumer preferences will drive increased consumption of bio-polyolefins;
- A broader supply base beckons with expanded mass balance-based production and new dedicated bio-ethylene/propylene plants on the horizon;
- Competition from bio-fuels may restrict feedstock availability in the medium term;
The global market for bio-based polyolefins is forecast to multiply by a factor of more than 20 between 2022 and 2032, reaching a volume of more than 4.7 million tonnes according to a ground-breaking report released by MLT Analytics. This impressive growth is set to be fueled by a variety of end-use applications, including existing mainstream bio-polyethylene applications such as extrusion coating, shopping bags, and blow-molded containers, and emerging bio-polypropylene applications such as hygiene, housewares, and rigid and flexible packaging.
“2022 was a breakout year for bio-polyolefins in that we saw a notable diversification in the supplier base, with emerging suppliers developing and augmenting their commercial presence in the market, and adding to the dominant presence of incumbent producer Braskem,” said MLT Analytics CEO and co-founder Stephen Moore. “We also saw the bio-PP market more than triple in scale between 2021 and 2022 as mass balance-based polymer production kicked off in Europe and Japan,” he added.
Most global polyolefin suppliers have announced sustainable polyolefin targets, typically to be achieved by 2030, that involve a mixed slate of polymers derived from bio-based, chemically-recycled, and mechanically-recycled feedstocks. And while the latter two routes may be preferred by some resin producers, brand owner and consumer pressures look like ensuring bio-based polyolefins will play a notable role in achieving sustainability targets.
The European Commission’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) in its current form is a potential complicating factor to market growth for bio-polyolefins according to MLT Analytics Moore.
“The Commission has essentially signaled its preference for C14 assay over mass balance as the preferred means of measuring bio content, and added that bio-based plastics should target durable applications such as pipe and automotive, thereby functioning as carbon sinks. I don’t believe this is a stance that will be acceptable to bio-polyolefin suppliers given their investment in the mass balance approach.”
On the bio-polyolefin supply side, the main incumbent supplier—Braskem—is being joined by a stable of European, Japanese, and Korean suppliers, with Dow Chemical, also increasing its presence via production assets in Europe.
“Bio-polyolefins are major components of Korean and Japanese suppliers’ sustainability strategies, and they will have ready access to export-oriented markets in Asia Pacific,” said Moore. “In fact, by 2032, we expect the Asia Pacific region to overtake Europe in consumption of bio-polyolefins.”
Bio-polyolefin suppliers also need to ensure they can secure sufficient bio-feedstocks to polymerize their products for the market according to Moore. “Most bio-refineries focus on production of bio-fuels, with bio-naphtha being a lower priority by-product,” noted Moore.