|The expanded Ecoflex plant|
Ecoflex has the properties of conventional polyethylene but is fully biodegradable under industrial composting conditions. It is thus competing purely on a green agenda, but with higher price given the new technology and much lower economies of scale.
BASF first started selling Ecoflex over 10 years ago, from a small 8,000 tonne/year plant in Ludwigshafen. This capacity increased to the current 14,000 tonnes/year after an additional plant was built in Schwarzheide in 2006. The announcement for the plant that has just been built was made in April 2008.
At the same time as it added new base capacity, BASF is also upping compounding capacity for its Ecovio offering - which is a blend of Ecoflex - based on petrochemical feedstocks - and a polylactic acid polymer, derived from corn starch. This, it says, is also doing well, on the back of its 75% or so renewable bio-based content.
Doubtless ever-growing concerns over the green agenda, renewable feedstocks and recycling will spur further interest in the material - but I wonder how much BASF has committed to developing Ecoflex and the market for it over the past 10 years - just how long is the pay-back period, and how many other companies without BASF's resources can stay the course?