The Winner is …
The Best (Bioplastic) Company of 2022 was undoubtedly TotalEnergies. Here’s what they achieved in 2022 ….
- TotalEnergies Corbion (TEC)
Their bioplastic joint venture “TotalEnergies Corbion”who is jointly owned with their NL partner “Corbion” has been the main driver and leader of the bioplastic industry for the last 3 years.
There was a name change: “Total” became “TotalEnergies”, so “Total Corbion” became “TotalEnergies Corbion” at the end of 2021 (read more TotalEnergies Corbion). The name change wasn’t really the best thing they came up with. Quiet frankly, I like the old name “Total Corbion” better than the new one “TotalEnergies Corbion”.
Previous bioplastic industry leaders include BASF, NatureWorks and Novamont and today we have TotalEnergies Corbion. They did a good job for the last 3 years but it wasn’t easy when looking at what we’ve been going through.
One of the most important factor contributing to TotalEnergies Corbion’s “influence” was the “institutional” power they gained from their presidency of the European bioplastic federation; they enjoyed a bigger visibility and influence thanks to this position.
However, they have been replaced at this position as we speak and it’s not clear as to whether they will be able to compensate for this loss of “institutional” power.
PLA is probably the world’s most produced bioplastic; the global production is probably around or above 250 thousand tons per year divided over at least 3 to 4 players. PLA has, I think, a bigger production than respectively Bio-PE and PBAT. PLA has the advantage to be more diversified in terms of production. In the case of Bio-PE and PBAT, we have one producer who dominates the market which is, some people may argue, a kind of monopoly. With PLA you have a larger choice of suppliers which is ‘an sich‘ better than a monopoly position.
- Second PLA Plant
TotalEnergies Corbion has one PLA plant in Thailand that produces PLA from sugarcane.
TotalEnergies Corbion is building a second PLA plant in France (Grandpuits), which is a wise thing to do if you intend to commercialise PLA in the EU because they’re removing the carbon footprint of the “global” supply chain from the equation.
However, it’s not clear as to the type of feedstock they will use for the production of PLA. They claim it’s going to be “second generation” feedstock … agricultural waste and byproducts.
But I still have question about this:
- will the feedstock come exclusively from the EU or will they blend it with palm oil for instance?
- will they use sugar beets (first generation)?
- Will they use “used cooking oils” mixed with palm oil?
- Will they use animal fats?
Read more: Their second PLA plant in france
Their PLA brand Luminy is probably 100 % biobased…. the real thing; so no “mass balance” scheme needed here (read more: Luminy® PLA resins from TotalEnergies Corbion are biobased).
However, in terms of “Luminy” brand marketing, I haven’t been impressed. We’re still dealing with old school marketing here.
- Recycling of PLA
There has been an important paradigm shift within TotalEnergies to start supporting “recycling” more than “composting” as preferred end-of-life option for PLA. They’re investing and becoming more vocal on this topic.
Historically, composting has always been the preferred end-of-life option of PLA producers so it’s not a small strategic change.
This shift has probably been a determinant factor for TotalEnergies Corbion to give up their position at the presidency of European Bioplastics which is an association who’s main objective is to promote “composting” as end-of-life option.
This change is also made out of pure necessity as it seems that there’s a risk that the composting end-of-life option may soon become a dead-end as industrial composters are not super enthusiastic about it; and if PLA doesn’t find a credible end-of-life option, it may be banned from EU member states within the next decade.
Setting up an economically and environmentally sound PLA recycling stream is not easy because “recycling” an sich has not really proved to be effective at all.
However, if one company could do it for one type of bioplastic: it would be TotalEnergies Corbion and PLA.
Technically speaking, TotalEnergies Corbion claims that it’s perfectly possible to chemically recycle PLA. They have already launched their sub brand: Luminy rPLA who is chemically recycled.
TotalEnergies has also been surfing on the chemical recycling wave with the following partnerships made in 2022:
We’re leaving in extraordinary times. We had the corona crisis, the Russian Ukrainian war, the record breaking inflation, the plastic crisis and the single-use plastic bans that have appeared a little bit everywhere.
So it weren’t easy times and I think TotalEnergies (Corbion) did a … relatively speaking… good job. I’m not sure whether it was pure crisis management or a bit more but crisis management had to be done anyway.
The future will tell us if TotalEnergies(Corbion) will be able to successfully create a PLA recycling stream and make PLA truly circular.
The future will tell us if TotalEnergies (Corbion) will be able to solve the obstacles regarding the (industrial) composting of PLA.
The future will tell us if TotalEnergies (Corbion) will manage to remain the leader without the institutional power entrusted upon them.
But that’s for later …
Today, join me in congratulating TotalEnergies (Corbion) for their remarkable leadership and achievements and remember that it’s usually in crisis times that your true nature comes to the surface …