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Some next-generation bio-based materials are superior in performance to their petro-based counterparts, but also face some commercial challenges. This is especially true of certain biopolymers, adhesives, coatings, and advanced materials.

Ann R. Thryft

October 19, 2016

4 Min Read
Bio-Based Materials Have Advantages Over Petro-Based

Although it may sound counter-intuitive, some next-generation bio-based materials are superior in performance to their counterparts derived from petroleum. This is especially true of certain biopolymers, adhesives, coatings, and advanced materials. However, they also face some commercial challenges.

In various applications from transportation and industrial to energy and packaging, bio-based materials have demonstrated performance benefits over petroleum-derived incumbents, Ross Kozarsky, Lux Research Senior Analyst, told Design News. He is co-author of a recent report, Hunting for Value and Performance in the Bio-based Materials and Chemicals Space.

"The bio-based space and the entire industry has had a bad reputation," he said. "Many first-generation products like starch-based plastics were clearly inferior. Second-generation bio-based equivalent products were the exact same chemicals as petroleum-based products, but derived from bio-based materials. They were green and cost less. But once the price of oil went down, they lost much of their value proposition."

Packaging, which accounts for almost 40% of global plastic consumption, is a major application for biopolymers. Polylactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxylalk anoate (PHA) have better material properties, such as tensile strength and tensile modulus, than their petroleum-derived counterparts, but continue to cost more.

Now we're entering an era where performance is the major goal, and there are several pockets of value and success in the industry. But there's still a perception of poor quality for many bio-based materials. "In the past, there wasn't enough strategic thinking on the part of manufacturers about the entire value chain," Kozarsky said. "The approach was more like, wouldn't it be cool if we could make this green material? and not enough thought about cost and performance, which is what counts on the customer end."

Lux Research analysts set out to highlight specific downstream applications where promising areas of technology development in specialty chemicals, biopolymers, and advanced materials can offer concrete value propositions. They evaluated bio-based materials on the Lux Innovation Grid, focusing on six areas: advanced materials, adhesives, coatings, lubricants, personal care and cosmetics, and packaging.


About the Author(s)

Ann R. Thryft

Ann R. Thryft has written about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for Design News, EE Times, Test & Measurement World, EDN, RTC Magazine, COTS Journal, Nikkei Electronics Asia, Computer Design, and Electronic Buyers' News (EBN). She's introduced readers to several emerging trends: industrial cybersecurity for operational technology, industrial-strength metals 3D printing, RFID, software-defined radio, early mobile phone architectures, open network server and switch/router architectures, and set-top box system design. At EBN Ann won two independently judged Editorial Excellence awards for Best Technology Feature. She holds a BA in Cultural Anthropology from Stanford University and a Certified Business Communicator certificate from the Business Marketing Association (formerly B/PAA).

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