Swedish Firm Invests in Bioplastics

A new pilot plant and laboratory will ensure continued expansion in sustainable products

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

Swedish company Perstorp, Malmo, has announced continuing investment in its ε-polycaprolactones (PCL) technology, which it markets under the Capa brand. The company says this is to cope with its forecast of a 20% growth per year for the foreseeable future in the world bioplastics market.

The world bioplastics market could expect 20% growth per year for the foreseeable future.

Among the investments are a new pilot plant in Warrington, U.K. — which is already up and running — and from January increased technical resources and a new laboratory in Malmo. The pilot plant will help to produce new Capa grades for existing customers and support the continued expansion of the Capa thermoplastics product line, while the new lab will become a caprolactone innovation center for application development. This will ensure new formulations are developed and tested to meet the challenges of emerging applications where, says the company, Capa can play a decisive role in increasing competiveness.

“We are increasing our competitiveness in bioplastics through these investments, which is a core focus area for the Perstorp Group. We intend to take a leading position in the development of new bioplastic products, since Capa thermoplastics add significant value to biopolymer performance and end-of-life solutions,” notes Linda Zellner, Perstorp bioplastics manager.

The company is particularly focused on three key bioplastic growth segments — paper coatings, bags, and films and packaging. The current investments are designed to support rapid development of all three, but also to ensure the infrastructure is in place to meet the challenges of new emerging applications.

Perstorp says Capa, in particular, opens up new opportunities for bioplastics such as PLA (polylactic acid), PHA (polyhydroxylalkanoate) and starch by improving their functional properties, especially toughness and flexibility, enabling them to be competitive in film and packaging applications. The superior compostability of Capa also improves the products useful end-of-life, making bioplastic packaging, bags and film environmentally attractive, adds the company. The latest investments are aimed at broadening the sustainable options available to producers and ultimately to consumers, too.

“Biopolymer formulators and producers will get a fast response to their specific Capa needs and then have access to a broader range of innovative sustainable options as the bioplastics application portfolio develops,” says Zellner.

In addition, speaking in December at the 9th European Bioplastics Conference in Brussels, Zellner outlined the results of a study Perstorp has been involved in to develop a novel biodegradable, compostable waste bag.

Currently, Sweden has three alternatives to organic waste handling systems: paper bags, plastic bags and biobags. All have their flaws. Paper bags, for example, annoy users because they are prone to wetting and breakage. Plastic bags, mostly polyethylene, risk contaminating the anaerobic digestion processes widely used in Sweden. Finally, existing biobags , which are made of starch-based materials, often don’t degrade rapidly enough for the same anaerobic digestion processes.

So, Perstorp aimed to develop and evaluate a new bioplastic compostable bag that fulfils the following criteria: user-friendly; no risk of degradation during use; biodegradable in anaerobic digestion chambers; compliant with the SPCR 120 Swedish waste management quality assurance program; can be handled by existing pretreatment systems; and environmental performance throughout the lifecycle that corresponds to that of alternative products such as a paper bag and a plastic bag.

The first phase of the three-part study centered on formulating and field testing different types of biobags versus paper bag and plastic bag references. The second step involved anaerobic digestion evaluation of the chosen solution. The last stage, life cycle assessment, found the biobag has a comparable environmental impact to the paper bag and a lower impact than the plastic bag. Users preferred the new biobag, although it did not fulfill all of the set criteria from a project point of view. Problems here included blocking of the pre-treatment step and low levels of biogas generation during anaerobic digestion.

Zellner told the conference that such studies need realistic criteria if they are to support the development of new materials and solutions. Also, it’s necessary to consider biogas potential and ease of anaerobic digestion as well as other benefits, including increased collection of organic waste, user friendliness, improved handling in the waste collection system, and better efficiency in raw material use.

“The advantage with this type of study is that general awareness is increased around existing solutions and systems and the need to adapt and improve them further in order to open up the market for new environmentally sound materials,” she concludes.


Ottewell2Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at sottewell@putman.net

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