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Biopolymer bonus

Posted 04/05/2014 by cgodfrey

A change in the focus of the biopolymer sector means that producers and marketers are now emphasising the whole value proposition for their products rather than just their renewable aspect, if speakers and delegates in Philadelphia, US, at this week’s Biopolymer symposium and the BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology are to be believed. 

The new approach resembles that used for speciality chemicals in focusing on meeting customer needs for products with at least equal performance, compared with conventional fossil-based polymers, but preferably with different and new properties that offer new application possibilities. The added bonus is, of course, that the products are also environmentally advantageous as a result of their sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the biomass feedstocks, and can be said to follow the principles of green chemistry, thereby making a major contribution to sustainability.

However, all is not plain sailing for the sector, which feels that it is unfairly treated in terms of being required to leap through additional hoops, compared with fossil-based polymers, as a result of its being bio-based. The hoops are all about requirements for certification, for example, for the renewable nature of the feedstock, the renewable carbon content of the final polymer product and the recyclability or composting potential of the final product produced using the polymer. 

There is, of course, no such requirement for such certification of fossil-based polymers – no certification of the oil feedstock, or for the carbon content of the polymer, or even for the end-of-life disposal of the final product produced from the resulting polymer.

Now many in the biopolymer feel that this is an unacceptable burden on the development of the sector, while others see this as an advantage in providing their customers with a major advantage in terms of meeting their sustainability goals. 

Rather than being seen as separate from fossil-based polymers, however, many involved in the biopolymer sector believe that their products will only be able to be considered fully accepted when there will no longer be a need for separate conferences covering biobased and fossil-based polymers.  

Only time will tell, of course, but the renewable nature of biopolymers, as well as bio-based chemicals in general, has got to be beneficial for all of us.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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