According to a report in Nikkei Asia, Brazilian chemical company Braskem is considering constructing a bio-ethylene plant to make feedstock for polyethylene, which in its various types (HDPE, LDPE, LLDPE, EVA) is used in everything from shopping bags, to disposable serviceware, food containers, housewares, and coatings for paperboard packaging, among other converted products. Production would begin as early as 2026. The bio-ethylene plant would produce enough feedstock to polymerize around 8% of Japanese polyethylene demand.
Braskem uses a process to convert sugar cane to bio-ethylene via bio-ethanol dehydration in Brazil, where bio-ethanol is also widely used a a fuel. It is not clear whether sugar cane or alternative biomasses will be used as the base feedstock in Japan. Estimates by MLT Analytics are that over 100 square kilometers of arable land would be required to grow sufficient sugar cane feedstock to feed a 200,000-tonnes/year bio-ethylene plant—the scale planned for Japan— and that ideally plantations should be located within a 200-km radius of the plant site.
Housewares and kitchenware are current applications for bio-HDPE in Europe. Image: Stephen Moore
Further, the OECD's Global Plastics Outlook 2022 report recommends under its efficiency scenario that more sugar cane-derived resin production should be located in Brazil and Thailand, where it is a cost-effective feedstock. Under this scenario, the report says that the impact on global GHG emissions from plastics use, including indirect land use effects, would be -1.1%. However, if bio-ethylene plants are located globally without consideration to ready feedstock availability emissions would actually grow by 0.2%.
The OECD report projects bio-based plastics overall market share to remain at around 0.5% in 2060, growing from 2 million tonnes in 2019 to 6 million tonnes in 2060.