Plant-Based Plastics to Replace Petroleum Plastics?

January 31, 2010 – As the price for crude oil continues to rise over time, the cost of producing petroleum-based plastic products continues to rise with it. Alternatives such as bio-plastics, which currently cost more to produce than existing plastics, may someday become more cost effective than petroleum-based plastics.

Frederic Scheer, owner of a company called Cereplast that makes sustainable bio-plastic material from vegetable and grain starches, believes that petroleum prices will eventually exceed the costs of producing his own product. By 2013, he believes that industry giants like DuPont and BASF will pursue his technology as a replacement for their soon-to-be outdated petroleum plastics.

Scheer’s company has developed a method of converting starch from corn, wheat, tapioca, and potatoes into biodegradable plastic resins. Because they effectively biodegrade in a mere 90 days, they are an excellent alternative to traditional plastic cups, containers and packaging materials.

Cereplast also produces a hybrid resin composed of 50 percent renewable bio-plastic which cuts waste and conserves energy. This blend is useful in things like cars and children’s toys. By cutting the amount of polypropylene plastic used in products, the kind most typically used in consumer products, Scheer hopes his company will help to reduce the negative environmental impact caused by plastic products.

Similar to using corn ethanol as fuel, the practicality of utilizing agricultural byproducts to produce sustainable energy is dependent upon the often fluctuating costs associated with obtaining them. The recent worldwide food crisis, for example, caused the prices of many commodities to rise dramatically, making some alternative energy projects no longer feasible.

In order to overcome this problem, Scheer is diversifying his efforts by researching the potential for utilizing algae. Because it can be grown quickly and cheaply, it is likely to work even better than starch because its costs would remain more stable. His company plans to release an algae-based plastic by the end of 2010.

Another hot commodity receiving little attention in the mainstream is the hemp plant. Hemp is a renewable biomass source that would not only work well in producing clean, biodegradable plastic products, but would also pave the way for energy independence by eliminating the need for fossil fuels. The uses for hemp are endless.

With a market topping $2.5 trillion worldwide, the plastics market holds a lot of potential for those with alternative ideas. The push for cleaner, “greener” products may eventually result in a tremendous gain for those like Scheer who have developed and continue to develop viable alternatives to fossil fuels.

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