Growing demand for sustainable products from construction, automotive and footwear industries is also expected to have a positive influence on market growth. However, complex manufacturing process and high cost compared to its synthetic/petrochemicals based counterpart is expected to remain a key challenge for bio-PU market participants.
PU synthesis implies a fossil based isocyanate and a polyol , also petrochemicals based in most cases. Natural oil polyols (NOPs) and sugars, which have long been raw materials for alkyd paints, are now used to make polyurethane (PU) foams for automotive applications, while thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPUs) from bio-based polyester polyols find use in sporting goods, particularly shoes, and medical devices.
Commercialization of a wider range of higher-performing, cost-competitive biobased polyols from both established polyol manufacturers and newer companies focused on the production of renewable materials will drive further growth of the bio-based PU segment.
Because the properties of PUs are closely tied to the properties of the polyols from which they are produced, it is critical that biobased polyols offer the performance needed for a given PU application.
On another hand, The development of biobased isocyanates is also receiving a lot of attention because if achieved, then 100% biobased polyurethanes could be obtained The development of isocyanate-free PU materials is also being investigated as an approach to avoiding the toxicity issues generally associated with isocyanates.
As you can figure-out, there is still some hard R&D work and capex down the road to an affordable 100% biobased PU. This is why biobased PU is still a drop in the sea.
As a matter of fact, the global PU market is expected to reach an estimated value of USD 54.2 billion by 2019. Whereas more than one third of the global PU production is absorbed by shoe soles manufactured in China and new emerging low cost countries, the major drivers of global polyurethane market are significant growth in building and houses and increasing penetration of polyurethane in furniture, bedding, and automotive applications, low CO2 emissions leading to increased demand for energy efficient material in automotive and mass transportation.
Geographically, the consumption is still very much in line with the following pie-chart but . It might tend to rebalance in favor of Western Europe and the US along with a greater penetration of polyurethane in insulation markets, specifically in building energy efficient houses, driven by the legislation in Europe and the US.
BASF, Bayer, Huntsman, DOW, and Yantai Wanhua are among the major suppliers of global synthetic polyurethane market. Regular innovation of products is very important for these major companies to sustain their successful positions in the market as it will slowly but steadily migrate to bio-based PU.
For what concerns this embryonic bio-based PU market, flexible foam was the largest product segment and accounted for 49% of total market volume in 2013. Flexible foam is also expected to witness the highest growth rate over the next six years. The segment is expected to grow at an estimated CAGR of 6.7% from 2014 to 2020.
In volume global bio-PU market was 1,634.0 tons in 2013 and is expected to exceed 2,546.6 tons by 2020, growing at an estimated CAGR of 6.5% from 2014 to 2020.
By market segment, Construction was the largest end-use industry for bio-PU market and accounted for 35% of total volume in 2013. Increasing construction of green buildings coupled with growing consumer preference towards eco-friendly construction materials such as spray foams and coatings, adhesives, sealants & elastomers (CASE) is expected to drive the market.
Automotive applications are expected to dominate bio-PU market, with demand estimated to grow at a CAGR of 7% from 2014 to 2020. Increasing flexible foam demand from major automotive OEMs, especially in the U.S., for car seats, headrests and dashboard is expected to drive the market. European Commission regulation for reducing vehicle weight in order to limit emissions is also expected to have a positive impact on the market growth.
By geography, Asia Pacific was the largest regional market also for bio-based PU and accounted for over 30% of total volume in 2013. Availability of natural oil in abundance particularly in South East Asia coupled with government support in the form of tax benefits and financial incentives in countries such as China and India is expected to drive the regional bio-based PU market. Asia Pacific is also expected to witness the highest growth rate over the next six years, at an estimated CAGR of 8.4% from 2014 to 2020.
Major synthetic polyurethane manufactures have shifted focus towards developing sustainable and environment friendly products. For this purpose, several market players have collaborated with biotechnology firms to synergize their expertise to manufacture bio-based polyurethane. For instance, Lubrizol acquired Merquinsa and integrated its bio TPU products to its portfolio in November 2011. Other major players operating in global bio-based PU market include BASF SE, Bayer Material Science, The Dow Chemical Company, Biobased Technologies and Mitsui Chemicals.
If you want to know more about the state of the art, Scientists from University of Strasbourg, France, published results of their recent research on Bio based building blocks for segmented Polyurethanes. A macropolyol was prepared by combining two different biomolecules- lignin and oleic acid, from biomass. NMR and FT-IR analyses are performed to determine the chemical structure of the lignic- fatty acid based polyol –