Boom in global patent applications for biodegradable plastics innovation


The second annual edition of the Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report 2022, from intellectual property firm Appleyard Lees, analyses patent filings across several key environmental issues facing the world, including biopolymers and polymer recycling.

According to the latest report, biodegradable plastics innovation has a clear front-runner with the sharp spike in global patent applications for butylene-based biopolymers.

Data in the report shows that, since 2018, activity among the top five organisations filing patents more than doubled (from 26 to 56 in 2020), with the 2020 number increasing by more than 200% compared to 2016.

The Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report 2022’s focus on polymers was chosen because of its prominence in the global green innovation conversation, Appleyard Lees says, as referenced in the OECD’s and United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Green Innovation Database.

In polymer recycling technology innovation has re-emerged to reach a worldwide peak of 423 priority patent filings in 2020 – an almost 130% increase compared to 2018 (186) and the most prolific patent filing year since 2000 (294).

Patent filings in all types of biopolymers have risen in recent years.

Appleyard Lees’ patent data research reveals that pyrolysis – a process for decomposing polymer feedstock into smaller hydrocarbons – is currently taking the top spot among monomer regeneration recycling technologies. In 2020, this technology accounted for about 70% of patent filings among the four most common decomposition recycling approaches.

Company innovation activity is dominated by Eastman Chem Co., with more than 70 patent applications for polymer recycling in 2019-20 alone, followed by Sabic Global Technologies, whose applications include processing polymer waste by hydrotreatment and performing pyrolysis (thermal decomposition in the absence of oxygen).

Commentating on the report, patent attorney Sarah Gibbs, Senior Associate at Appleyard Lees, said: “The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2022 report, Global Plastics Outlook: Policy Scenarios to 2060, predicts a three-fold increase in plastic pollution by that year unless there’s ‘action to curb demand, increase product lifespans and improve waste management and recyclability’.

“Patent filings in all types of biopolymers have risen in recent years, though increased activity in butylene-based polymers is notable over the past five years and could offer a valid route for manufacturers.”

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