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Issue 05/2022

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Highlights: Fibres / Textiles / Nonwovens Building & Construction Basics: Feedstocks K'2022 preview

Basics Feedstocks for

Basics Feedstocks for biobased plastics First, second, and third generation Biobased plastics can be made from a wide variety of feedstocks (Fig 1). Depending on whether the resources can also be used for food or feed, or waste streams are used, the feedstock can be distinguished in different ways. By Michael Thielen First Generation Feedstock Most biobased plastics are made of carbohydrate-rich plants, such as corn (maize), wheat, sugar cane, potatoes, sugar beet, rice, or vegetable oil, so-called food crops or first-generation feedstock. Bred by mankind over centuries for highest energy efficiency, currently, first-generation feedstock is the most efficient feedstock for the production of biobased plastics as it requires the least amount of land to grow and produce the highest yields. [1, 2]. The efficiency of the crop-bioplastic ratio can be determined as follows: the annual yield of carbohydrates per hectare and the agricultural area needed to produce one tonne of biobased plastics. Research and development as well as new production processes are constantly improving the efficiency of crops. First-generation feedstock is criticized once in a while for its potential competition with food and feed. These arguments say the use of these crops takes away food intended for human or animal nutrition. In many cases, however, this is more about large biofuel plantations leading to increasing food prices. This is known as the “food versus fuel” debate. Thus, this criticism has been directed at the biofuel sector rather than the biobased plastics sector. But there seems to be a presumed link between biofuels and biobased plastics, which is nor exactly justified, Second Generation Feedstock Not only, but mainly driven by this criticism, the so-called second generation feedstock refers to non-food crops (cellulosic feedstock) such as wood, short-rotation crops such as poplar, willow or miscanthus (elephant grass), switch grass or castor oil, to name just a few. Third Generation Feedstock Apart from some sources giving algae [3] – having a higher growth yield than 1 st and 2 nd generation feedstocks –their own category, or others calling CO 2 or methane [4] the third generation feedstock, many experts agree that all kinds of organic waste streams, such as wheat straw, bagasse, corncobs, palm fruit bunches, or the like represent this third group. Another example is the starch gained from the process water of industrial potato processing (french fries etc.) which is used to produce biobased plastics [5]. Even municipal wastewater is so rich in carbohydrates from food residues that its use as a source for the production of PHA is subject of research [6]. In the end, the “food vs fuel” discussion continued for nonfood crops if grown on land destined for food production. The use of agricultural waste or residues would not constitute a direct conflict with food unless they are residues from the first-generation feedstock. Straw could potentially be considered animal feed and thus part of the food chain. It should, however, be noted, that different to biofuels, the total amount of agricultural land needed to produce biobased plastics in 2021 represented only 0.013 % of the total global agricultural area. And projected to 2026 it will be no more than 0.058 % (see Fig 2) [1]. So there is ground to argue that this criticism is made in bad faith. [1] European Bioplastics: Renewable Feedstock [2] bioplastics MAGAZINE, Glossary 4.5, Issue 01/2021 [3] [4] NatureWorks: methane as third generation feedstock; bioplastics MAGAZINE, Issue 02/2016 [5] Co-products from potato processing, bioplastics MAGAZINE, Issue 03/2016 [6] bioplastics MAGAZINE, Issues 04/2007, 06/2020 and many more Fig 1: Biobased plastics are made from a wide range of renewable Biobased feedstocks (Picture: European Bioplastics) [1] Fig 2: Land use estimation for bioplastics 2021 and 2026 (Picture: European Bioplastics) [1] 56 bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/22] Vol. 17

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