The materials industry in Europe is traditionally reliant on petrochemically derived raw materials. However, recent developments in the USA show the first steps to a shift towards greener and more sustainable technologies, for example polymers derived from natural resources (bioplastics) and/or green biotechnological routes such as the fermentative synthesis of 1.3-propane diol for polyesters and lactide (NatureWorks) for poly(lactides).
Under economic, legislative and market pressure many sustainability projects within the globally important chemical industry have been initiated. However, sustainability investment in the economically key sectors of new materials and polymer/plastics industry is lagging behind. To significantly progress in sustainable polymers and materials development we need to adopt a very different approach compared to other chemical industries.
Biotechnology is seen as one of the most potent enablers for the shift from petrochemical to a sustainable chemical industry but is largely underutilised in polymer/materials science. However, in each process, the application of green technologies to each of the individual elements, synthesis, building blocks, raw materials and processing, must be investigated independently and then combined in a coherent green approach. New opportunities need to be assessed in combination with specific application tests and socio-economic process analyses.