Algae Leads the Latest Generation of Bioplastics
Algae is the hot new area of bioplastics development according to Pira International. As firms like Cereplast continue to gain cash support from investors, journal Bioplastics World analyses how starch and algae stack up in the fight to become tomorrow's top source for bioplastics.
In February 2011, DSM announced that it had successfully completed the acquisition of Martek Biosciences. The partners are hoping it will 'accelerate the growth of Martek's product portfolio into other regions, applications and market segments.'
According to Bioplastics World Editor Dan Rogers 'This could well mean Martek's algal and other microbial-based biotechnology platforms might find their way into the biopackaging arena. But some firms are sticking with starch-based futures.'
Earlier in February, Teknor Apex launched its new masterbatch for PLA biopackaging applications, quoting advanced impact strengths. So where will the smart money be going over the next 12 months?
Bioplastics World, a new publication for the bioplastics industry, has investigated this growing segment of the market in its first issue.
Speaking exclusively with commercial developers of new technology and end users, the journal looks at the likely impact of algae-based technologies in the bioplastics industry, and assesses the challenges to more widespread adoption:
'Generally algae are used as a fuel source: their composition contains a lot of oil and therefore that can be a positive from that perspective,' says Mark Bunger, lead analyst at Lux Research.
'In terms of packaging there are people looking at doing this, but there are issues and I'm not aware of companies that haven't encountered issues.
'Martek were recently bought out by DSM for $1.6 billion (€1.1 billion), and its use for algae operates in the arena of food ingredients, or health supplements, but not at all in the area of biopackaging, as far as I'm aware.'
According to Bioplastics World, Bunger is unsure as to why companies would want to go down the path of developing packaging from algae. From his perspective, there are many easier ways to make packaging and, given the nature of how algae works, the alternatives are potentially more valuable from a commercial sense.
'The issue, as with any biomass, is you need to convert the monomer, regardless of its source, whether it is cellulosic or not,' he explains.
'Now with algae, that conversion first requires cultivation. The cultivation is hard to do as it is cost-intensive; you need lots of water and lots of space; and you also need lots of capital to pump the water.
'Then the other elements of production are tough too, because the algae is very dilute, so you might achieve 1g of material from 1 litre of water.'
Such low ratios are compounded by the fact that algae itself is very hardy, requiring crushing to get at the contents, and even then the separation process is intensive. This is needed to reach the point where material similar to ethylene is available.
This article appears in full in Bioplastics World, and includes comment from the Soley Biotechnology Institute and the CEO and chairman of Cereplast.
Bioplastics World provides the latest news, exclusive articles and in-depth analysis of the commercialisation of bioplastics.
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