Which is the use case of our waste-based PHA?
The portfolio of recovered products is very important for the strategic roadmap of RES URBIS, because it delivers the perspective of the market uptake and therefore it is the base for the business case.
The product portfolio for RES URBIS was developed by INNOEXC and continously updated along the project by taking into account technology achievements from BIOINICIA, SABIO. MIPLAST, INRA, and UNIRM. At the end of the project RES URBIS, it has been confirmed that the entire spectrum of low and high value applications developed and envisaged for the product portfolio are actually relevant and feasible with the RES URBIS technology.
The choice of the initial portfolio was made at the time of Grant Agreement preparation based on the best knowledge of the partners at that time, and also on the technical capabilities for validating the initial assumptions. The project implementation followed the main pillars initially considered and at project end we still consider the structure valid, but with the important expansion of the specialty interlayer to cover a larger market for adhesive and interlayer materials. The unmet need for sustainable alternatives to plastics, such as biodegradable bioplastics, has been demonstrated to be very large and in this context PHA is a promising candidate to penetrate more and more into the bioplastics landscape. These included:
- Biodegradable commodity film
- Biodegradable packaging interlayer film and adjacent adhesives
- Specialty durables (such as electronics and/or interior design good)
- PHA-fibers biocomposites
- Premium slow C release system for groundwater remediation
Biodegradable commodity film (MIPLAST) is intended as a monolayer film used for mass applications, such as heavy duty bags, mulch film and the applications that do not face challenges with barrier requirements for example. The petrochemical plastics used for those applications are mostly polyolefins, which are not biodegradable. Biobased biodegradable options are available such as those based on starch, PLA, PBAT among others. The total volume of plastics that can replace in this sense is large and it ranges between 10 and 15 million ton per annuum in Europe. This figure is based on pure technical feasibility for the substitution and is a long term perspective for the total accessible market size, not a short term objective. Indeed, penetration of bioplastics is currently low and so their market acceptance. Moreover, it is unlikely that the PHA from RES URBIS technology will be adopted as pure material due to the issue of matching mechanical and rheological properties. A blend with a maximum amount of 25% PHA from RES URBIS is a more realistic target, with resulting into 2-3 million ton per annum total market opportunity.
Due to the large amount of material required this application has been demonstrated by MIPLAST on full scale machines towards the end of the project. The tests run well showing good performance up to a ratio of 1 :4 of PHA. Therefore, the application film demonstrated to be technically feasible.
Disposable interlayer film (BIOINICIA) is a very relevant application as most high-performance disposable packaging is multilayer, where multiple layers need to be “tied together” through interlayers.
At present there are few established biodegradable and biobased solutions for interlayers; therefore, providing a solution to this market application, RES URBIS not only secures the market pull but would contribute greatly to the uptake of biodegradable bioplastics as substitutes for petrochemical non biodegradable plastics. Without a biodegradable interlayer in fact even a packaging made of biodegradable layers would not be biodegradable.
This application fits very well with the performances of RES URBIS PHA which is capable of providing « hot tack » and « sealability» properties, intended as stickiness and adhesion to other polymers, mostly to polar polymers, such as those used in core layer, of medium barrier multilayers, typically EVOH. Adhesion layers into composite interfaces such as paper- to- plastics, and paper-to-metal are also exploitable substitution targets. The adhesive properties of PHA are achievable through electrospinning by BIOINICIA, therefore a proper market pull can be created in this area. The currently scarce availability of biobased solutions may drive a strong market pull, since the strong need for more sustainability in this landscape.
Speciality Durables - interior design (SABIO) Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of environmental problems and this drives the attention on organic materials, intended as “natural” materials and not causing issues to the environment, in terms of both resource depletion, energy consumption and end of life fate.
For this reason, plastics that are established as materials for modern interior furniture are being replaced by bioplastics by design furniture producers, such as Kartell. The furniture manufacturer Ikea announced in 2018 the intention to construct a 450 k ton per annum capacity plant under NewLight Technologies licensing agreement, which shows the increased attention of this sector for bioplastics.
In this context RES URBIS has been evaluating whether its products are technically suitable for this application, with a total market opportunity volume of 300 k – 500 k ton per annuum. Since not enough material was available for realization of whole furniture, e.g a chair, handles have been realised instead, as the compound formulation and the related technical challenges are analogous, but with lower amount of material required. The compound performed well and was suitable for the moulding process for obtaining the final item. Therefore, the technical feasibility of durables has been also demonstrated and the extension to large objects as chairs is not considered problematic, having enough material available.
Additionally, the use of fibres as 5% component in composite blends (INRA) offers the possibility to increase total sourcing from RES URBIS technological development.
Environmental application (UNIRM) is a niche area which is emerging since the issue of contamination from chlorinated compounds in groundwater. Carbon release is the key feature of remediation agents because it supports the biodegradation of chlorinated compounds in the groundwater. Since biodegradability of PHBV is fast, with respect to PLAs and also to homopolymer PHBs, the chemistry of RES URBIS PHAs supports very well the key performances of this application.
PHAs from RES URBIS have been tested for this application and it has been shown that extracted PHAs slightly outperform market peers, whilst non extracted PHAs (i.e. containing approx. 50% biomass) biodegrade even faster. However, non-extracted PHAs are exposed to higher risk of secondary contamination (e.g. ammonia release), which can be an issue for this application in which the PHA is directly applied to groundwater. Therefore, the use of extracted PHA is the best compromise between performance and safety.