However, with growing demands for materials with minimal impact on the environment, the methods of production used to create bioplastics is facing increased scrutiny.
Lactic acid is widely used in the production of some bioplastics such as PLA . Commonly made from first generation feedstocks (G1) – either derived from cane, wheat, or beet. Recently there has been much debate in society regarding the use of crops for applications other than for food or animal feed. Will there be enough for everyone, amid a growing population? In fact, agricultural land dedicated to growing crops for bioplastics worldwide is minimal - it accounted for less than 0.015% in 2020 - and it’s expected to only slightly increase in the years to come (2025 = 0.020%).
In parallel to advancing sustainable agriculture practices on the current feedstocks, Corbion is also actively exploring the use of next generation carbohydrates as a raw material for bioplastics, and other applications such as food, pharma, and biomaterials. Unlike feedstocks, such as sugarcane or sugar beet (G1), second generation (G2) and third generation (G3) feedstocks are not intended for human consumption and have the potential to move biochemical processes further out of the food-chain. G2 feedstocks include lignocellulosic biomasses that are derived from farm or industrial waste streams and require more pre-treatment than a G1 feedstock. Some of the options that Corbion is investigating in this category include whey, food waste, wood, and paper mill residues and saw dust. G3 feedstocks include primarily algae and seaweed applications, and here too, Corbion is involved in longer term research with one aim being converting CO2 directly into fermentable carbohydrates.
Corbion is actively engaging and looking for external parties who have the potential to supply non-G1 feedstocks to Corbion assets. Today, the scale is small and technology readiness is low, however through open collaboration with technology providers and sugar suppliers, and the provision of feed and off-take options, we aim to stimulate the development of commercial-scale supply chains of G2 and G3 feedstocks in the coming decade.
For us, the creation of bioplastics made from non-G1 feedstocks has been an enlightening journey. Starting almost a decade ago, we were the first company to successfully produce PLA from G2 feedstocks on a lab scale. Since then, we have become a member of the European Bioplastics Association and have championed the use of biobased materials in the plastics industry to make a positive difference on the world, whether coming from today's available natural G1 feedstocks such as sugarcane and corn, or tomorrow's non-G1 feedstocks.
Corbion is ideally positioned to take the lead in the value chain by converting non-G1 feedstocks to lactic acid for making PLA and other applications, providing expertise and state-of-the-art technologies to support our suppliers, customers, partners, and other stakeholders in meeting market needs and navigating the changing landscape together.