Biopolymers are polymers that occur in nature, such as carbohydrates and proteins. Many biopolymers are already being produced commercially on large scales:
- cellulose is a carbohydrate and 40 percent of all organic matter is cellulose.
- starch is found in corn, potatoes, wheat, cassava, and some other plants. Annual world production of starch is over 70 billion pounds, with much of it being used for paper, cardboard, textile sizing, and adhesives.
- collagen is a protein found in mammals. Gelatin is denatured collagen, and is used in sausage casings, capsules for drugs and vitamin preparations, and other miscellaneous industrial applications.
- casein, commercially produced mainly from cow’s skimmed milk, is used in adhesives, binders, protective coatings, and other products.
- soy protein and zein are plant proteins which are used for making adhesives and coatings for paper and cardboard.
- polyesters are produced by bacteria, and can be made on large scales through fermentation.They are now being used in biomedical applications.
These natural raw materials are abundant, renewable, and biodegradable, making them attractive feedstocks for bioplastics.
- Starch-based bioplastics can be processed by all of the methods used for synthetic polymers, like film extrusion and injection moulding. Eating utensils, plates, cups and other products have been made with starch-based plastics.
- Soybeans can be processed with modern extrusion and injection moulding methods.
- Water soluble biopolymers are used for flexible films mainly as food coatings. They have potential use as non supported stand-alone sheeting for food packaging.
- Polyesters are now produced from natural resources-like starch and sugars-through large-scale fermentation processes, and used to manufacture water-resistant bottles, eating utensils, and other products.
- Poly(lactic acid) has become a significant commercial polymer. Its clarity makes it useful for recyclable and biodegradable packaging, such as bottles, yogurt cups, and candy wrappers. It has also been used for food service ware, lawn and food waste bags, coatings for paper and cardboard, and fibers-for clothing, carpets, sheets and towels, and wall coverings. In biomedical applications, it is used for sutures, prosthetic materials, and materials for drug delivery.
- Triglycerides have recently become the basis for a new family of sturdy composites. With glass fiber reinforcement they can be made into long-lasting durable materials with applications in the manufacture of agricultural equipment, the automotive industry, construction, and other areas. Fibers other than glass can also be used in the process, like fibers from jute, hemp, flax, wood, and even straw or hay. If straw could replace wood in composites now used in the construction industry, it would provide a new use for an abundant, rapidly renewable agricultural commodity and at the same time conserve less rapidly renewable wood fiber.
The global biopolymers market is expected to reach USD 10,447.2 million by 2021, growing at a CAGR of almost 17% through the forecast period. Western Europe comprises the largest market segment, occupying 41.5% of the market, with the maximum incremental growth expected to originate from the region.