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Issue 05/2018

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Events Quo vadis PHAs?

Events Quo vadis PHAs? Plastics politics, in particular, will decide this. Congress report on the 1 st PHA platform World Congress, 04-05 September Cologne, Germany Polyhydroxyalkanoates or PHAs are a group of polyesters (a platform), produced in nature by numerous microorganisms, specifically bacteria. PHAs are natural polymers with thermoplastic properties, used by bacteria as energy storage and have unique properties such as biodegradation in almost all environments, even in the ocean. They can be used in numerous applications. Since more than 20 years, research institutes, startups and established chemical companies try to produce improved PHAs for specific applications and introduce them to the market. The commercial success is still limited: The world capacities might be around 80,000 tonnes, distributed among many small producers. The real production is even smaller, 10,000 to 20,000 tonnes in 2017. Plastics that even break down easily in the sea would actually be ideal to combat the marine pollution including the microplastic problem. What are the barriers for a real success? A visit to the 1 st PHA platform World Congress, 04-05 September Cologne in Germany was an eye opener. With an impressive 165 participants, almost every developer, producer, compounder and user in the field of PHAs were present and shared their latest technologies and marketing strategies. It was a long dream of Michael Thielen, publisher of bioplastics MAGAZINE and Jan Ravenstijn, a world leading expert on PHAs and other biobased polymers. Now their dreams were more than fulfilled. And quo vadis PHAs? It was impressive to see, how far developed PHA-varieties are meanwhile and how many different applications can be covered by the PHA-properties. Jan Ravenstijn opened the congress with his presentation “Dealing with the opportunities and challenges on the PHAplatform”. He gave a comprehensive overview on the more than 40 PHA producers worldwide and examples of PHAproduct applications in thermoplastics and thermosets, in durable and single use products and in replacement opportunities of bulk and engineering polymers. Market leaders Kaneka (Japan) and Danimer Scientific (USA), not only showed a wide range of PHA varieties and properties, but also certificates from TÜV Austria and DIN Certco on the biodegradation in different environments, such as home composting, soil, fresh water or even the ocean. Kaneka reported to expand their PHA production to 5,000 tonnes/year in 2019. The most developed PHAs are PHBH, PHB and PHBV. They could be used for mulch films and in fishery for dolly ropes, nets and even as fish feed. Other applications are films (for packaging), coating, industrial glues and cosmetics, consumer goods with injection moulding and 3D printing (FKuR (Germany) and Helian Polymers (Netherlands)). Some companies also presented applications for construction and textile fibres (“soft, cool, smooth”, Centexbel (Belgium) and Mango Materials (USA)), and tissue engineering in implants medicine (AMIBM Germany/Netherlands). In addition, agricultural fertilizers can be coated with PHA to optimize nitrogen release (Pursell Agri-Tech, USA). All these applications and even more are already in small volume commercial use. The PHA producing bacteria digest sugar, starch or plant oil to produce PHAs. Several projects were presented to use organic municipal or industrial waste water streams for the PHAs production to save costs. Instead of producing biogas, the waste water can be used for PHA production. This is economically more interesting than the subsidised production of biogas if there is a demand for it. Paques and Phario from The Netherlands have big plans to produce PHBV from waste water. The first demonstration project will start in 2019. The Chinese company Bluepha has unique microorganisms that even live in salt water and produce PHA. They programmed them beyond standard metabolic engineering to create higher yields, to simplify separation of their P3HB4HB from the remaining biomass and to achieve much lower manufacturing cost. The biopolymer compounders Biotec (Germany) and Modified Materials (Netherlands) addressed the challenges of PHAs: • Price - at approx. 4 €/kg, PHAs are considerably more expensive than conventional mass polymers. The use of organic waste water could reduce the costs . • Consistant properties in different deliveries. • Improvement of performance. • Approval for food contact. • Aging of the materials. Different policy and strategy presentations (Ellen MacArthur (UK), FullCycle Bioplastics (USA), nova-Institut (Germany) and Narocon (Germany)) showed, that the future of the PHA-platform depends mainly on future political and social acceptance. Is the PHA-platform part of the solution to the plastic waste problem, or part of the problem? Different examples from California legislation, Greenpeace reports and European Commission plastic and waste strategy show concerns about biodegradable plastics as a solution. Hundreds of brands and companies have a clear target for their future plastic use: 100 % of all plastics should be reusable, recyclable or compostable. But what will be the share of biodegradable plastics in comparison to recycling? 10 bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/18] Vol. 13

Events By: Michael Carus, CEO Nova Institute Hürth, Germany If PHAs can regain confidence in biodegradable plastics as part of the solutions, there will be huge markets. Transparent and solid information and documentation are necessary, no more promises than materials can keep. The PHA sector needs convincing case studies and the right applications, where collection and recycling are not possible and PHAs really create benefits, other materials cannot offer. Comprehensive use of certifications for various organic degradation standards (industrial, home, soil, marine) are crucial (OWS (Belgium)). The first World Congress on PHAs was enthusiastically received by the industry. It was exactly what all players needed in the PHA puzzle. New contacts were made, old ones refreshed and joint projects started: Four people have teamed-up to make a proposal to the congress delegates for a global PHA-platform Industry Association. The companies are prepared to produce PHAs of suitable qualities in sufficient quantities. They want to make their contribution to solving environmental problems. But the bridge to politics and society has yet to be built in order to recognise and realise the potential of the PHA platform. Some PHA producers and compounders can be found here: Jan Ravenstijn and Michael Thielen bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/18] Vol. 13 11

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