Project title:  Feasibility of End use Applications: SustaInaBilLty and techno-Economic aspects (FEASIBLE)

Project partners:

  • ABB
  • Ahold
  • Croda
  • Food & Biobased Research
  • Heinz
  • HSV
  • Jus de Pommes Meneba
  • NatureWorks
  • NPSP Composieten
  • Océ
  • Purac
  • Rinos
  • Rodenburg
  • Synbra
  • Utrecht University

Fairer comparing of plastics

How sustainable are bio-plastics, and how feasible is it to use them to replace regular plastics. This is explored in the FEASIBLE project, in which potential end users of renewable plastics and manufacturers of bioplastics cooperate. The exact characteristics of many bio-based plastics are not yet known. In various publications you will often find opposing data, which occurs for instance because they were measured using different methods. In FEASIBLE, researchers try to rectify this for a number of bio-plastics in particular applications: plastics for injection moulding applications, for bottles, foils and carpet backing. Bio-based plastics studied in the project are either commercially available or in development by companies which participate in the BPM programme. ‘We are going to make profiles for these bio-plastics on the basis of their characteristics. We produce test samples which we use to carry out a wide range of tests, so we are certain everything is measured in the same way’, says Harriëtte Bos, who is involved in the research. The researchers are also going to make life cycle analyses of the bio-plastics. This allows the bio-plastics to be compared among each other, and also allows renewable plastics to be compared to traditional oilbased plastics. This aspect was an important reason to participate for the producers of plastics and companies which use plastics in their products. If they choose for renewable plastics, they want to be able to prove the positive aspects of their choices. This research has to provide the knowledge for this. However, existing LCAs are not sufficient for bio-based products. Researchers are therefore working on a better set up of the analysis, within the project. ‘The step towards renewable raw materials can lead to indirect changes in the use of land, for example’, researcher Martin Patel explains. And there are more issues that are not yet included in the LCA methodology’.

In addition to this, bio-plastics sometimes have slightly different properties compared to plastics made from oil. This is why the researchers want to implement a way to compare conventional and renewable plastics in the LCA. Instead of only looking at kilos of product, attention should also be paid to the functionality of the plastic in a product. ‘If the bio-plastic is stronger than the conventional plastic it replaces, the part could perhaps be made thinner. This has a positive impact on the LCA and the cost price. On the other hand a bio-plastic which is weaker, requiring more material, may still be better for the environment if its overall environmental profile is better than for the oil based alternative ‘, concludes Bos.