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‘The Biopolymer Application Centre is intended to bring biopolymers in a general sense to the attention of the industry and consumers. We carry out technical research, but also work on (consumer) research and marketing and communication.’
Lucien Joppen

The environmental impact of plastics has pushed biopolymers to the fore, albeit not always in a positive way. Interest from market parties is growing – just look at the efforts of companies like Coca-Cola and IKEA. These enterprises – and they are certainly not the only players – want to use renewable raw materials as much as possible so these can then be recycled, possibly together with ‘virgin’ materials. ‘Biopolymers are going from strength to strength,’ says Gertjan Visse, project leader at the BAC, ‘but they still only have a fraction of the total market. The market is dominated by fossil polymers, which is hardly surprising given the current oil price. Biopolymers which compete directly with fossil counterparts, such as bio-PET and PET, are having a hard time. But biopolymers with functions that stand out from the rest are less affected by price competition. These properties include biodegradability, better barrier properties and an attractive look-and-feel. The more favourable CO2 footprint of biopolymers is a purchasing argument for parties which are consciously trying to be more sustainable, but for most businesses, the price tag will be the deciding factor.’

Mars wrapper

Market ignorance about biopolymers forms another hurdle. Various misconceptions prevail about degradability and functionality, such as the idea that biopolymers perform less well on properties such as heat resistance and life span. Visse: ‘The SIA-RAAK project ‘Functional stability of biopolymers’ has given the Centre of Expertise Biobased Economy and Wageningen University & Research and Fontys University of Applied Sciences valuable insights into the properties of biopolymers which need to have a long life span. The reason is simple. If the use of biopolymers remains limited to short cycle applications, the market will be considerably restricted. In this project we wanted to investigate which structural characteristics are important for properties such as UV resistance and heat resistance. The main part, however, was applied research: a total of more than 200 students completed a practical project, mostly based on questions from SME companies. Students were involved for example in the development process of a degradable wrapper for Mars (see box).’ The research project also received recognition from the National Taskforce for Applied Research, which awarded ‘Functional stability of biopolymers’ a silver medal in the RAAK awards. The jury found that ‘the project delivered excellent concrete and socially relevant products.’


The BAC, which started in 2015, forms a follow-up to the SIA-RAAK project above. Among other things, it provides a development workshop where businesses can test applications on a very small scale: prototyping. ‘This is an important service,’ according to Visse. ‘Many companies do not have the means or the equipment to perform these (feasibility) tests. At the BAC we can respond quite quickly to such requests, minimizing the costs. We have equipment for injection moulding, extrusion, compounding and 3D printing.’ Visse stresses that the production process is just one aspect of the BAC. The initiative covers the entire chain, from feedstock selection to marketing. ‘The BAC also plays a part in communication and marketing. The importance of communication in technological innovations is undervalued as a rule. When you want to introduce a technology, you also have to explain what it means so that businesses, consumers and investors are motivated. For instance, we are going to help a number of designers and artists with a Kickstart campaign for their biobased artworks.’

Crowdfunding for Be-O

Nijmegen citizen Damir Perkic, founder of start-up Be-O, made use of the services of the BAC. He developed the Be-O bottle, a reusable water bottle which is based on bio HDPE and bio TPE. ‘The concept is similar to the Dopper bottle, but it has a better CO2 footprint and a striking design. Our pricing is within the range of the Dopper.’
Be-O’s mission is to accelerate the transition from fossil plastics to bioplastics, according to Perkic, by ‘putting reusable products made from bioplastics on the market.’
Perkic contacted the BAC when he was looking for funding for his start-up. ‘In the first instance, I wanted exposure on online forums to generate some name recognition. And I also wanted to obtain some initial funding through crowdfunding. A trainee with the BAC was able to provide great assistance with the social media and with spreading our message. In the end, the crowdfunding campaign raised sufficient funds for us to continue. We are currently in discussion with several investors, of which some were reached through the crowdfunding campaign. The discussions are positive and we expect to introduce the Be-O bottle on the market in the short term.’

The aim is for Be-O to use other bioplastics as well in the future for reusable products yet to be designed. ‘Miscanthus is one of the options. This research is being carried out via Food & Biobased Research at Wageningen University & Research and the German FKUR. These parties have made the most progress with this material.’

Bergen op Zoom: focus on economy

The BAC not only collaborates with entrepreneurs, but is also commissioned for projects by public parties. The municipality of Bergen op Zoom currently has two projects running through the BAC. Dietmar Lemmens, Economic Affairs project manager for the municipality in Noord-Brabant: ‘We had already become acquainted with the BAC in the past, when it was involved in the development of the biobased coins for pop music venue Gebouw-T in our town. Bergen op Zoom sees the biobased/circular economy primarily as an opportunity for attracting new activity. In the past, for instance with Philip Morris, it has been clear how vulnerable we are when many jobs are lost at large companies. So we want to stimulate this development actively. No more interminable policy memos, but real lines of action. That is how we are linking culture and design with biobased as well. This can be done through a coin, but also through the carnival associations. We encourage them not to use only fossil plastics on their floats, but to also consider composites or biobased materials.’

Through its purchasing policy, the design of the public space and participation in initiatives such as the Green Chemistry Campus, Bergen op Zoom invests in projects which are intended to speed up the transition to a biobased economy. ‘Our efforts should result ultimately in increased employment. That won’t happen overnight. Patience and perseverance are vital.’