Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Bioplastics: Sustainable materials for building a strong and circular European bioeconomy

Bioplastics are becoming a crucial component in the drive to create a fully sustainable and circular bioeconomy. The EU has been actively supporting the development of these materials through ambitious and collaborative research that aims for a greater uptake that will help transform Europe’s plastics’ industry over the coming years.
Bioplastics: Sustainable materials for building a strong and circular European bioeconomy
Plastics dominate our lives and are found in almost every human-built environment. We find them in our clothes, our houses, our places of work and almost all common consumer goods – including toys, televisions, smartphones and computers, to name but a few. Through the twentieth century and beyond, plastic has become a truly indispensable material for modern civilization.

Policy challenges and EU action

However, plastics are increasingly problematic from an environmental and sustainability perspective. It is estimated that by 2050, the world’s oceans could contain more plastic than fish (by weight) and that plastics production will account for a greatly increased share of global oil use and GHG emissions. The current system of plastics production is mainly linear, with heavy reliance on non-renewable, fossil feedstock, has low levels of re-use and recycling, and suffers from high levels of leakage into the surrounding environment.

The EU, through its Circular Economy Action Plan, is dedicated to stimulating Europe’s transition to a circular economy that will boost competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and result in the creation of new jobs. As a major source of growth and jobs, the European plastics industry must also be included in this transition – for this purpose, the European Commission is due to adopt a new strategy on plastics as part of the CE Action Plan by the end of 2017.

A new but growing industry

Bioplastics can play an important role in this transition. Encompassing a whole family of materials with different properties and applications, bioplastics can be made from renewable resources such as crops and wood, or from waste streams such as the residues of food processing.

With the emergence of more sophisticated materials, applications, and products, the global market is already growing by about 20 to 100 % per year. By 2021, it is expected that Europe will possess around a quarter of the world’s bioplastics production capacity.

Supporting European research initiatives

This CORDIS Results Pack is highlighting the results of eight innovative projects that have benefited from funding from the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) that are making important scientific and innovative contributions to such an exciting and potentially game-changing industry.

Featured projects include BIOREFINE-2G, which has developed commercially attractive processes for efficient conversion of side-streams from biorefineries, to be used as precursors for bio-based polymers including biodegradable polymers. Meanwhile the BRIGIT project has produced new tailor-made biopolymers produced from lignocellulosic sugar waste for highly-demanding fire-resistant applications, whilst SYNPOL researchers gave themselves the task of propelling forward the sustainable production of new polymers from feedstock. Finally, the EUROPHA project aimed to reduce the costs of PHA biopolymer and expand its applications as a 100 % compostable food packaging bioplastic.

Through these and other projects that are currently underway as part of FP7’s successor programme, Horizon 2020, Europe is determined to cement itself as a leading global player in bioplastics manufacturing and innovation and ensure that bioplastics become truly sustainable material of the twenty-first century.
A bridge to market for bio-based chemical building blocks
The EU’s willingness to transition from a fossil-based to a bio-based economy seems unshakable. The BIO-QED project’s demonstration activities, which focused on bio-based butanediol...
From pulping byproduct to high-performance biopolymers
Pulp production inevitably leaves byproducts in its wake. These include lignosulfonates, which have a wide variety of applications, but also sugars whose negative effect over the...
Are microalgae the feedstock of the future?
The EU-funded SPLASH project has shown that microalgae are a viable raw material for the sustainable production of feedstock for chemicals and plastics. This innovation has the...
Towards more sustainable food packaging
Researchers with the EU-funded EUROPHA project have developed 100 % natural and biodegradable bioplastic formulations for food packaging applications.
Creating a market for crude glycerol
Researchers with the EU-funded GRAIL project are developing new technologies and uses for crude glycerol, a by-product of biodiesel production.
Perfecting the biotechnological production of chitosans
Researches with the EU-funded NANO3BIO project are using specially optimised fungi, bacteria and algae to produce the environmentally-friendly chitosans that serve as raw materials...
Building bioplastics from waste streams
EU-funded researchers have used biowaste, agricultural residues and other carbon-rich waste streams to produce price competitive bioplastics. The strategy could open up new...
Novel biopolymers from biorefinery waste-streams
Second generation biorefineries are all about creating value from waste, so it seems only right that the ideal plant should leave nothing behind. With this in mind, the BIOREFINE-2G...
Speeding-up the production of green plastic
EU scientists are working on ways to speed-up the environmentally-friendly and energy efficient production of bio-based polymers so they can become commercially viable.

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