Interest towards bioeconomy and biobased materials has recently increased enormously due to the global discussion concerning problems caused by the use of plastics. A recent study by Business Finland and Gaia Consulting analysed the value chain and possible innovation development pathways of cellulose-based bioproducts and biocomposites replacing plastics. The bioplastic market, especially drop-in-biopolymers, is estimated to reach 3,4 billion euros in 2020.
New and more sustainable biobased materials have a tremendous potential, as the demand for plastics is expected to increase heavily, and existing raw material sources are depleting, or their usage is unsustainable. Finnish government strategy aims to double the current bioeconomy turnover from 60 billion euros to 100 billion euros before 2025.
A Business Finland case study conducted by Gaia Consulting was part of the comparative OECD survey on bioeconomy development and related innovation policy in various countries. In the study Gaia interviewed 20 Finnish organizations that are involved in the development of applications having higher added value based on the utilization of forest biomass. Large companies, SMEs and startups, and research organizations, as well as public-private partnership and funding organisations were included among the interviewees.
Virtually everything that is currently being produced from fossil-based plastics can be replaced with cellulosic bioproducts and biocomposites. Examples include consumer packages (e.g. food and drink, jewellery, cosmetics), hygiene products, toys, consumer electronics (e.g. cell phone covers, loudspeaker frames) as well as air and water filtration solutions. It must be taken into consideration, however, that the product features of biobased materials need to be equal or better than the existing solution, e.g. the biocomposite materials need to last long and should not brake or compost during the use phase.
The study showed that the Finnish innovation ecosystem of plastic replacing cellulose-based bioproducts and biocomposites is already well developed and equipped with high-level expertise and know-how regarding the different products and their various uses.
– This is an apparent result from Finland’s heavy investments into the field in the recent years, says program manager Tuula Savola from Business Finland.
However, the study shows that the value creation logic is changing. The traditional business logic of selling large volumes of bulk to few clients differs significantly from the new model of selling small batches to many clients. Thus, the next step needed is to renew traditional business models to push the cellulose-based bioproducts and biocomposites forward in the consumer product as well as in the vast industry product market sectors. – We need to collect the gains enabled by the considerably higher value of the end products than is present in the traditional cellulose based products, such as pulp, paper and bioenergy, says Dr. Solveig Roschier, Leading Consultant of Gaia Consulting.
The main knowledge gaps that still form hinders for proper market entry are related to the end of the value chain: lack of market knowledge and end user or client perspective of the new industry. Networking within the extended value chain is critical and cooperation with the brand owners is needed. The market knowledge can be increased, if target market players are included as participants and partners already at the product development phase. For example, one must be familiar with polymer technology and processing opportunities in order to understand the end use opportunities well enough. Raw material must be processed in a way that is applicable to end use. For example, coffee cups and animal food packaging have different kind of quality criteria for raw material.
– In general, Finland has good prerequisites to conquer the vast and growing market of biobased products in the era of a growing global plastic problem. To succeed, orchestration of the related innovation ecosystem will require attention and effort, Tuula Savola sums up.
The study by Gaia Consulting was based on a literature review and interviews of 20 key market players investigated the possible development pathways of the innovation system related to cellulose-based textiles and plastic replacing bioproducts and biocomposites to find solutions for speeding up the growth of bioeconomy.