Sustainable and Bio-Based Materials

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Sustainable and bio-based materials are materials derived from renewable resources, such as plants, algae, fungi, or recycled materials, that offer a lower environmental impact compared to traditional materials like petroleum-based plastics and metals. These materials are designed to be biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable, reducing waste and promoting a circular economy.

Impact on climate action

Sustainable and Bio-Based Materials within Advanced Materials drive climate action by replacing conventional materials with eco-friendly alternatives. By reducing reliance on fossil fuels, minimizing carbon emissions, and promoting circularity, these innovations contribute to a more sustainable and low-carbon economy, fostering resilience to climate change and environmental degradation.

Underlying
Technology

  • Bio-Based Polymers: Bio-based polymers are plastics derived from renewable resources, such as corn starch, sugarcane, cellulose, or bacterial fermentation. These materials offer similar properties to conventional plastics but are biodegradable or compostable, reducing their environmental impact at the end of their life.
  • Biocomposites: Biocomposites combine bio-based polymers with natural fibers, such as wood fibers, flax fibers, or hemp fibers, to create strong and lightweight materials with reduced environmental impact.
  • Recycled Materials: Sustainable materials can also include recycled materials, such as recycled plastics, paper, and metals, which reduce reliance on virgin resources and minimize waste.
  • Biomimicry: Biomimetic materials are inspired by the properties and functions of biological materials found in nature, such as the strength of spider silk or the water repellency of lotus leaves.
  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA): LCA is a tool used to assess the environmental impacts of a material throughout its entire lifecycle, from raw material extraction to end-of-life disposal. This information is used to identify and develop more sustainable materials.

TRL : 4-8 (depending on the specific material and application)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced Bio-Based Polymers: Researchers and startups are developing new bio-based polymers with improved performance characteristics, such as better barrier properties, heat resistance, and strength, making them more suitable for a wider range of applications.
  • Biodegradable and Compostable Bioplastics: Innovations in biodegradable and compostable bioplastics are improving their performance and expanding their applications in packaging, agriculture, and other sectors. This includes developing materials with better barrier properties, heat resistance, and compostability in home composting environments.
  • High-Performance Biocomposites: Researchers are developing biocomposites with enhanced mechanical properties, such as increased strength and stiffness, making them suitable for structural applications.
  • Nanocellulose-Based Materials: Nanocellulose, derived from plant cellulose, is a promising material for creating high-performance biomaterials with unique properties, such as high strength, transparency, and biodegradability.
  • Recycled Material Innovations: Advancements in recycling technologies are improving the quality and availability of recycled materials, making them a more viable option for sustainable manufacturing.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Enhanced Biodegradability
  • Bio-Based Polymer Innovations
  • Advanced Biocomposites
  • Nanocellulose Applications
  • Recycled Material Advancements
  • High-Performance Biomaterials
  • Biomimetic Materials Development
  • PHA-Based Bioplastics
  • Mycelium-Based Materials
  • Biomass Conversion Technologies
  • Agro-Waste Utilization
  • Bio-Based Chemical Production
  • Edible Coatings and Packaging

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Full Cycle Bioplastics:
    • Technology Enhancement: Full Cycle Bioplastics specializes in the development of biodegradable bioplastics derived from organic waste materials, such as food scraps and agricultural residues.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Full Cycle Bioplastics’ technology converts organic waste into PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate), a versatile bioplastic that is compostable, biodegradable, and renewable.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Full Cycle Bioplastics serves industries seeking sustainable alternatives to conventional plastics, including packaging, food service, agriculture, and textiles.
  • Ecovative Design:
    • Technology Enhancement: Ecovative Design utilizes mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, to create biodegradable materials as alternatives to plastics and foams.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Ecovative’s technology enables the production of sustainable and biodegradable packaging materials, construction materials, and even leather substitutes, offering eco-friendly alternatives to traditional petroleum-based products.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Ecovative’s products cater to a range of industries including packaging, consumer goods, construction, and fashion, where there is a growing demand for environmentally friendly materials.
  • Origin Materials:
    • Technology Enhancement: Origin Materials develops technology for the production of bio-based materials from renewable feedstocks, such as wood residues and agricultural waste.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Origin Materials’ technology enables the production of bio-based chemicals and materials that can serve as drop-in replacements for petroleum-based products in various applications.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Origin Materials serves industries seeking sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel-derived materials, including packaging, textiles, plastics, and chemicals.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Wageningen University & Research:
    • Research Focus: Wageningen University & Research is renowned for its pioneering work in sustainable and bio-based materials, focusing on developing materials derived from renewable resources such as plants, algae, and agricultural waste.
    • Uniqueness: Their research often involves the exploration of novel biopolymers, biocomposites, and bio-based chemicals, as well as sustainable production processes with reduced environmental impact.
    • End-use Applications: The university’s work has applications in packaging, textiles, construction, and food packaging. For example, they’re researching bio-based polymers for biodegradable packaging materials, natural fibers for textile production, and bio-based resins for sustainable building materials.
  • University of California, Berkeley:
    • Research Focus: UC Berkeley conducts cutting-edge research on sustainable and bio-based materials, exploring the intersection of materials science, biotechnology, and environmental sustainability.
    • Uniqueness: They are known for their work on engineered biomaterials, bio-inspired design principles, and sustainable manufacturing processes for creating next-generation materials with improved performance and reduced ecological footprint.
    • End-use Applications: UC Berkeley’s research finds applications in electronics, healthcare, and renewable energy. For instance, they’re investigating bio-based polymers for flexible electronics, biomimetic materials for tissue engineering, and bio-derived chemicals for renewable energy storage systems.
  • Technical University of Munich (TUM):
    • Research Focus: TUM is a leader in research on sustainable and bio-based materials, exploring innovative approaches for utilizing renewable resources and reducing reliance on fossil fuels in material production.
    • Uniqueness: Their research often involves the development of bio-based polymers, biodegradable composites, and bio-inspired materials with tailored properties and functionalities.
    • End-use Applications: TUM’s work has applications in automotive, aerospace, and consumer goods. For example, they’re researching bio-based composites for lightweight vehicle components, biodegradable packaging materials for food products, and natural fiber-reinforced plastics for durable consumer products.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Sustainable and bio-based materials are being increasingly adopted in various applications, including food packaging, agricultural mulch films, disposable tableware, construction materials, and textiles. For example, many supermarkets are now offering fruits and vegetables in compostable packaging or with edible coatings, while some clothing brands are transitioning to bio-based materials for their products.