Natural polymer demand is expected to grow 7.1% annually to $4 billion in 2012, according to new data from the Freedonia Group. The best opportunities are anticipated in packaging areas as a result of the increased availability and cost competitiveness of novel polymers such as polylactic acid (PLA).
Further growth will be threatened by climatic and political uncertainties for products such as guar gum and gum arabic, as well as competition from synthetic alternatives. With many natural polymers procured offshore, imports are expected to continue to account for a large share of indigenous demand.
According to the Natural Polymers study, cellulose ether demand is expected to rise 4.2% a year through 2012, accounting for about one-third of all natural polymer demand. Methyl cellulose will dominate the cellulose ether market due to its widespread use in construction materials such as plaster, mortar, grouts, stucco and wallpaper pastes. Best cellulose ether opportunities are anticipated for microcrystalline cellulose (MCC), particularly in pharmaceutical applications.
Demand for starch and fermentation products will expand at a double-digit pace to $1.1 billion in 2012 based on greater availability and improved production technologies for polymers including PLA, starch blends and hyaluronic acid. Falling prices will also boost volume demand. Polylactic acid will see significant growth in packaging areas such as thermoformed containers. Hyaluronic acid demand will be fueled by an aging population, generating strong demand for dermal injections and orthopedic treatments, according to the company.
Robust growth is anticipated for protein-based polymers such as collagen, with further advances threatened by competition from longer-lasting alternatives such as hyaluronic acid. Exudate and vegetable gum demand will be bolstered by opportunities for guar gum in food and beverage applications. Good opportunities are anticipated for marine polymers such as carrageenan and alginates, mainly in food and beverages and wound dressings.
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