Specialty Fabrics Review December 2019 - 35

FEATURE

by Debra Cobb

Bio-based materials are an increasingly
desirable (and versatile) base for textiles
in a variety of markets.
ithin global manufacturing's quest to become
more sustainable, biopolymers are becoming
an increasingly important area of development.
Polymers are the chains of monomers, or building
blocks, that make up many materials, including textile fibers.
Biopolymers-created from bio-based feedstocks-have the
potential to replace petrochemical-based synthetics in a wide
variety of products, including consumer goods and packaging,
buildings and construction, automobiles and textiles.
Biopolymers can be derived from plant sugars and oils, such as corn, sugar cane,
or castor beans; regenerated from cellulosic materials, such as wood pulp, algae or
pineapple leaves; or created from the genetic modification and fermentation of
microorganisms, mushrooms or even methane.
Only 11 percent of existing biopolymers are currently used for textile fibers,
foams, resins and membranes. Most are used for consumer packaging.
A GROWING OPPORTUNITY
The IDTechEx report "Biobased Polymers 2018-2023: A Technology and Market
Perspective" by Dr. Bryony Core points out that global plastic production has grown
exponentially from 1.5 million tons in 1950 to 335 million tons in 2016. The planet
is virtually awash with nonbiodegradable plastics. While many traditional plastics
can be recycled, thought leadership is increasingly turning to bio-based substitutes.
Biopolymers are usually nontoxic, often recyclable and sometimes compostable,
making them highly desirable in a circular economy. Biopolymers can also be
combined with traditional petrochemical polymers, creating new fibers with
partial bio content at less expense.

According to a report by nova-Institute,
a European research and consultancy
group with a focus on the bio- and CO2based economy, production of bio-based
building blocks and polymers reached 7.5
million tons in 2018, and is predicted to
grow at a compound annual growth rate
(CAGR) of 4 percent through 2023.
The nova-Institute report, "Bio-based
Building Blocks and Polymers-Global
Capacities, Production and Trends 2018-
2023," describes biopolymers as having two
advantages over traditional plastics: They
replace fossil carbon in the production
process with renewable carbon from
biomass; and roughly 25 percent of them
are biodegradable, offering a solution to
plastics unable to be collected for recycling.
With only a 2 percent market share of
the total plastics industry, biopolymers
would appear to have a wide-open
opportunity for growth, driven by
an increasingly sustainable economy.
A COMPLEX VALUE CHAIN
The development and commercialization
of any textile technology requires a
complex value chain, deep pockets and
a long-term commitment. Nova's report
sums up the challenges facing biopolymer
commercialization: "Overall, the market
environment remains challenging, with
low crude oil prices and little political
support." Nevertheless, bio-based
substitutes for petrochemical synthetics
are increasingly important. Most are based
on bio-monomers created by biotech
companies and start-ups.
Based in the Netherlands, Avantium
develops innovative technologies for
bio-based monomers and polymers,
collaborating with other companies to
transition the manufacturing economy
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Specialty Fabrics Review December 2019

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