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The Plastic Age
Before diving into what bioplastics are, it is important to acknowledge that regular plastics are an omnipresent material in modern life. We use it for packaging food and drink and in manufacturing, like making pipes, clothing, or even cars and airplanes.
This is also a material made almost exclusively from fossil fuels. While it can somewhat be recycled, after enough cycles, it will ultimately end up “consumed.”
The worst is turning it into trash in the environment or into micro-plastic pollution, which happens to roughly 80% of total plastic usage. But even if incinerated, it will produce CO2, like any other fossil fuel combustion.
This is not a fatality; however, plastic is essentially carbon chains assembled in specific ways. So, there is no reason that organic materials could not provide the basic components for plastic manufacturing.
To answer the growing concern about plastic production, bioplastics have been developed. They are made from plant materials, often leftovers from other industries like paper mills or farming. The sector is expected to reach $25B by 2027, growing at 14.9% CAGR (other studies anticipate a 17% growth).
Still, bioplastics represent just 1% of the total market currently dominated by fossil fuel plastics, leaving a very large addressable market.
A subsection of this category is biodegradable plastics, which are more environmentally friendly. Most bioplastics are easier to degrade than usual plastics. On that topic, research is also done to find microbes able to digest “normal” plastic in order to solve the micro-plastic pollution issue.
Overall, people are ready to pay more for eco-friendly products, with a growing trend, especially among younger people in the last few years.
You can also read more on the topic on the website of the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance.
Stock Selection Strategy
Despite the “bio” part, the bioplastic creation process is very much a chemical engineering issue. So, as you will see, it is not surprising that most of the industry leaders are also the leaders in the chemical industry or spin-offs from it.
Nevertheless, investors looking into bioplastics might not want to invest directly in giants like BASF, as the bioplastic part is almost irrelevant to the company’s overall business. For example, BASF will much more likely depend on the price of natural gas in Germany.
The following list is focused on smaller publicly traded companies, with a strong focus on bioplastics and eco-friendly solutions.
Top 5 Bioplastic Companies
(companies are ordered by market capitalization at the time of the writing of this article)
A long-established company in ingredients like sugar and lactic acid, the company has a relatively complex history with multiple acquisitions, mergers, and spin-offs.
It gets simpler post-2013 when the company refocused exclusively on biobased products. This includes a series of biobased ingredient product lines from the serial acquisitions of TerraVia Holdings in 2017 (ingredients from microalgae), Granotec do Brazil (bakery industry) in 2019, and Granolife (Mexican bakery industry) in 2021.
Since 2016, Corbion has had a 50/50 joint venture with Total for the production of bioplastics, more precisely, polylactic polymers that are used in food packaging, textiles, electronics, or even 3D printing.
While not entirely a bioplastic company, Corbion is a good stock in the general biobased ingredient sector, from bioplastics to food ingredients.
It is also a profitable company that experienced some growth after its 2013 restructuring and distributes a modest dividend of below 2%. Combined with a large market cap, this is a stock more fit for conservative investors looking for exposure to bio-materials and bio-ingredients.
Danimer is a pioneer in the bioplastics and biodegradable/compostable polymer sector, with more than a decade of experience, and has been publicly listed since 2020.
Starting with the 2007 acquisition of PHA plastic IP from Procter & Gamble, it has later established agreements and partnerships with Nestle, Bacardi, and Mars, among others.
Another major connection is PepsiCo, which also invested in Daminer in 2018.
In the latest company news, Danimer has announced the creation of compostable coffee pod biopolymers in partnership with Corbion.
The company is not yet profitable, with $180M in losses in 2022. It recently raised $130M of new debt to “avoid diluting existing shareholders.”
This came from a massive investment in a new factory to boost capacity to 65 million pounds of finished, PHA-based resin, triple the 20 million pounds a year ago.
Danimer is a growing company with very ambitious goals and solid relations in the industry. It will need to become more profitable soon, and gaining in scale will help, making its products cheaper and more competitive. Investors must be patient and pay attention to the company's balance sheet and cash reserves.
Avantium was founded in 2000 as a spin-off from Shell.
Its first product was YXY® plants-to-plastics technology catalytically converting plant-based sugars into FDCA (a base for polyester). It then developed Ray plantMEG™ (mono-ethylene glycol), used in the textiles, packaging, and automotive industries.
Lastly, its Volta technology, partially obtained from the acquisition of Liquid Light, aims at turning CO2 into a useful material for bioplastic chemistry.
The company has established partnerships with many large corporations, for example, LVMH, Carlsberg, ABInBev, Henkel, LEGO, and Salomon.
In April 2022, the company raised an additional $45M. Avantium's management declares having a clear path to growth and profitability, with the first license and manufacturing plants started in 2021 and 2022 and products reaching shops’ shelves by 2024.
Investors in Avantium will need to be patient and count on the company turning profitable as it expands. They will also want to check the progress made on executing the growth plan and the success in commercializing at scale the company's products.
Good Natured is focused on developing its own line of plant-based plastic products, notably food containers and bin plastic bags, with a total of 400 products.
The company plans to rely on both organic growth and strategic acquisitions, especially as the industry is very fragmented and could benefit from consolidation (even the largest US company is just 3% of the global market share).
Good Natured registered $101M in revenues in 2022, up from 2021’s $61M. This was still not enough to be profitable, with a net income of -$12M in 2022.
Investors will want to see revenues keep growing and profitability improving with economies of scale.
Biome Technologies is a UK company formed of its Biome Bioplastic division and its Stanelco RF division, focused on radio-frequency heating equipment (for the fiber optic market). 40% of revenues are from the bioplastic division.
The company's main product is a compostable coffee pod, a type of plastic product made unrecyclable by contamination with coffee. Instead, Biome products can compost both the plastic and the coffee together. Another product is the compostable tree shelter.
The product mix of Biome is a little surprising and not solely focused on bioplastics. However, it seems this will be the main focus going forward, as RF revenues have strongly declined in 2020 and are still to recover.
It is a micro-cap (below $10M), and the small operating profit in RF technology is compensated by a loss in the bioplastic divisions. Net income and free cash flow were negative in 2022.
You can also read further about Biome Technologies in this analyst report by Allemby Capital.
Investors must be cautious, as a return to growth for the RF division is uncertain, and bioplastic profitability can be hard to achieve quickly. It is nevertheless an interesting stock considering its very low market cap and growth potential, estimated at 25% per year for the bioplastic division.