Bioplastics and Biopolymers

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Bioplastics and biopolymers represent a revolutionary shift in material science, offering sustainable alternatives to traditional petroleum-based plastics. Bioplastics are plastics derived from renewable biomass sources, such as corn starch, sugarcane, vegetable oils, or even algae. Biopolymers encompass a broader category, encompassing all polymers produced from biological sources, including not just plastics, but also resins, fibers, and elastomers. These materials offer a compelling solution to the growing environmental crisis caused by plastic pollution and dependence on fossil fuels.

Impact on climate action

Bioplastics and biopolymers, under the main theme of Bio-Based Materials, significantly impact climate action by reducing reliance on fossil fuels, lowering carbon emissions in production, and offering biodegradable alternatives to traditional plastics. Their adoption promotes sustainability, mitigates environmental harm, and fosters a circular economy for a greener future.


  • Biomass Conversion: The key technology involves converting various forms of biomass into usable polymers. This can be achieved through different processes, including:
    • Fermentation: Microorganisms are used to break down biomass into simpler compounds, which can then be polymerized.
    • Chemical Modification: Existing biopolymers, like cellulose, are chemically modified to create new materials with desirable properties.
    • Direct Extraction: Certain biopolymers, like polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), are naturally produced by some microorganisms and can be extracted directly.
  • Polymer Science & Engineering: Bioplastics and biopolymers utilize principles of polymer science and engineering to optimize their properties for specific applications. This involves controlling molecular weight, crystallinity, and other factors to achieve desired strength, flexibility, biodegradability, and processing characteristics.

TRL : 7-9 (depending on the specific material and application)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • High-Performance Bioplastics: Innovations focus on developing bioplastics that match or exceed the performance of conventional plastics in terms of strength, durability, heat resistance, and barrier properties. This involves blending biopolymers with other materials, using nanotechnology to enhance properties, and optimizing processing techniques.
  • Compostable and Biodegradable Bioplastics: Significant research is directed towards developing bioplastics that can decompose completely in composting facilities or natural environments. This involves engineering materials that are readily broken down by microorganisms, leaving no harmful residues.
  • Marine-Degradable Bioplastics: This area focuses on creating bioplastics that degrade specifically in marine environments, addressing the pressing issue of plastic pollution in oceans.
  • Circular Economy Approaches: Innovations involve incorporating bioplastics into circular economy models, where materials are reused, recycled, or composted, minimizing waste and maximizing resource utilization.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Biomass Sourcing and Conversion
  • Microbial Fermentation Processes
  • Chemical Modification Techniques
  • Direct Extraction Methods
  • Polymer Engineering Principles
  • Nanotechnology Integration
  • Performance Optimization Strategies
  • Compostability Engineering
  • Marine-Degradable Solutions
  • Circular Economy Models
  • Waste-to-Bioplastic Technologies
  • PHA Production Innovations
  • Flexible Packaging Solutions
  • Sustainable Retail Packaging
  • Versatile Material Applications
  • Bio-Based Fibers Development
  • 3D Printing Advancements
  • Novel Biopolymer Synthesis
  • Agricultural Waste Utilization
  • Bio-Inspired Material Research

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  1. Full Cycle Bioplastics:
    • Technology Enhancement: Full Cycle Bioplastics specializes in converting organic waste into biodegradable bioplastics. Their technology utilizes bacteria to digest organic waste and produce a biopolymer called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), which can be used to manufacture various plastic products.
    • Uniqueness: Full Cycle Bioplastics’ approach addresses both waste management and plastic pollution by converting organic waste, such as food scraps and agricultural residues, into a valuable resource for bioplastic production.
    • End-User Segments Addressed: Their bioplastics can be used in a wide range of applications, including packaging, consumer goods, and textiles. They cater to businesses looking for sustainable alternatives to traditional plastics.
  2. TIPA:
    • Technology Enhancement: TIPA offers compostable packaging solutions made from bio-based polymers. Their technology focuses on creating flexible packaging materials that mimic the functionality of conventional plastics but are fully compostable at the end of their lifecycle.
    • Uniqueness: TIPA’s innovative packaging materials are designed to break down in industrial composting facilities, offering a sustainable alternative to traditional plastic packaging that often ends up in landfills or oceans.
    • End-User Segments Addressed: TIPA serves brands and retailers across various industries, including food and beverage, cosmetics, and fashion, providing compostable packaging solutions for both primary and secondary packaging needs.
  3. NatureWorks:
    • Technology Enhancement: NatureWorks produces biopolymers, specifically polylactic acid (PLA), from renewable resources such as corn starch. PLA is a versatile bioplastic that can be used in a wide range of applications, including packaging, textiles, and 3D printing.
    • Uniqueness: NatureWorks’ biopolymers offer a renewable and compostable alternative to petroleum-based plastics. Their materials have a lower carbon footprint and can be composted in industrial facilities or even home composting systems under the right conditions.
    • End-User Segments Addressed: NatureWorks serves various industries, including packaging, fibers and textiles, durable goods, and 3D printing. Their biopolymers are used by brands and manufacturers seeking sustainable alternatives to traditional plastics.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Research Focus: MIT’s research in Bioplastics and Biopolymers centers on developing novel bio-based materials derived from renewable sources, such as agricultural by-products and microorganisms, to replace conventional plastics.
    • Uniqueness: MIT’s approach often involves advanced bioprocessing techniques and genetic engineering to design biopolymers with tailored properties, such as biodegradability, mechanical strength, and thermal stability. Their research also explores sustainable production methods and lifecycle assessments to ensure environmental compatibility.
    • End-use Applications: The applications of MIT’s research span various industries, including packaging, automotive, and biomedical. For example, they’re developing biodegradable packaging materials to reduce plastic pollution and bio-based polymers for medical implants and drug delivery systems.
  2. Wageningen University & Research (Netherlands):
    • Research Focus: Wageningen University’s research in Bioplastics and Biopolymers focuses on exploring the potential of agricultural feedstocks, such as starch, cellulose, and proteins, for the production of biodegradable polymers and bioplastics.
    • Uniqueness: Wageningen’s approach integrates expertise in agricultural science, biotechnology, and polymer chemistry to develop sustainable bioplastic materials with tailored properties and functionalities. Their research emphasizes the circular economy principles, aiming to create bio-based materials that can be recycled or composted at the end of their lifecycle.
    • End-use Applications: The applications of Wageningen’s research include packaging, agricultural films, and consumer products. They’re working on biodegradable mulch films for agriculture, compostable packaging for food products, and bio-based coatings for paper and textiles.
  3. Imperial College London:
    • Research Focus: Imperial College London’s research in Bioplastics and Biopolymers focuses on advancing the synthesis and characterization of bio-based polymers, as well as exploring their applications in various sectors.
    • Uniqueness: Imperial’s research often involves collaborations across disciplines, combining expertise in polymer chemistry, materials science, and engineering. Their work encompasses both fundamental research to understand the structure-property relationships of biopolymers and applied research to develop scalable production processes and commercial applications.
    • End-use Applications: The applications of Imperial’s research range from packaging and textiles to healthcare and electronics. They’re investigating bio-based materials for 3D printing, sustainable packaging solutions for the food industry, and biocompatible polymers for medical devices and implants.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Bioplastics and biopolymers have moved beyond the research stage and are seeing significant commercial implementation in various industries. From packaging and consumer goods to textiles and even automotive components, these materials are proving to be viable alternatives to traditional plastics. The market for bioplastics is experiencing rapid growth, driven by increasing consumer demand for sustainable products and government regulations aimed at reducing plastic pollution.