L-lactide Market – Snapshot
L-lactide (levo-rotatory lactide) is the optically active di-ester of lactic acid. It is produced as an intermediate in the formation of polylactic acid or PLA. L-lactide is an odorless solid that is usually available in the free-flowing powder form. Generally, L-lactide is produced through ring polymerization reaction. It is biodegradable and can be used as a precursor for the formation of polystyrene-like polymers. L-lactide is highly used in food & beverage packaging. The major applications of L-lactide in this sector include plastic cups and food containers. In the medical sector, L-lactide is employed in implants such as anchors, screws, plates, pins, rods, and meshes. The property of biodegradability makes L-lactide a preferred choice for these applications. The material is used in both flexible and rigid packaging. PLA formed through L-lactide can be used as a feedstock material in desktop-fused filament fabrication 3D printers.
Consumer awareness about the risks of plastic consumption significantly influences the global L-lactide market. Conventional plastics, in addition to the basic polymers, also contain additional chemical components known as additives, which are added in small amounts to alter the properties of the polymers in the desired way. Concerns over the safety of plastics use in food packaging materials arise primarily from the possible toxicity of other low molecular weight constituents that may be present in the package and hence may be leached into food during storage. Various governments across the globe are taking initiatives to ban the consumption of plastics. In mild concentrations, plastics do not cause many problems. However, increased usage of plastics and the difficulty associated with their recycling demand new alternative and biodegradable plastics, and bioplastics fall under this category. Biodegradable plastics such as PLA, which is made using L-lactide, have superior barrier properties and find applications in various end-user industries such as food & beverage packaging, electrical & electronics, medical & health care, textiles, etc.
Based on end-user industry, the L-lactide market has been classified into food & beverage packaging, electrical & electronics, medical & health care, and others (agriculture and textiles). In food & beverage packaging, L-lactide can be used as a packaging film for food containers, bags and cups, and disposable serviceware and utensils; lamination or coating for paper/paperboard and foam products for trays; and in other packaging materials and films for food wrapping. Applications of the material in 3D printing or rapid prototyping are likely to enhance the demand for L-lactide in the electronics sector. In the medical sector, L-lactide finds applications in medical implants, tissue engineering, orthopedic devices, drug delivery systems, etc. The others segment includes end-user industries such as textiles and agriculture. In the textile industry, L-lactide is used in casual clothing, protective gear, work wear, etc. In the agricultural sector, L-lactide finds applications in soil retention sheeting, agricultural films, and waste bags.
Increased consumer preference for biodegradable materials and rise in environmental concerns are anticipated to drive the global L-lactide market in the coming years. Conventional plastics rely on fossil fuels, and the use of bio-plastics reduces the dependency on fossil fuels that arises with the production of conventional plastics. Rise in demand for L-lactides in bio-medical applications such as orthopedics, drug carriers, facial fracture repair, tissue engineering, anti-microbial agents, anti-tumor, and uteral stents is also anticipated to fuel the expansion of the L-lactide market.
Rapid increase in technological advancements in the medical sector is likely to boost demand for L-lactide across the globe. Asia Pacific is a key region for the expansion of the L-lactide market, owing to the presence of key manufacturers of polylactic acid in countries such as Japan and China. Stringent regulations on plastics consumption in western countries are likely to enhance demand for L-lactide during the forecast period. Increased consumer preference for biodegradable materials and rise in environmental concerns are anticipated to drive the L-lactide market in North America. The Farm Bill introduced by the U.S. government mandates the bio-preferred program, which is intended to encourage innovation and improve the commercialization of bio-based products. Concerns over the safety of plastics as food packaging materials have boosted demand for L-lactides in the region. The zero waste policy adopted in Europe is likely to have a significant positive influence on the L-lactide market in the region. Key countries and regions of the L-lactide market in Asia Pacific include China and Japan.
The L-lactide market is dominated by a few multinational players. This leads to intense competition. Generally, manufacturers of polylactic acid are engaged in the production of L-lactides. Manufacturers such as Corbion, Futerro, Polysciences, Inc, Nature Works LLC, and Synbra Technology are leading players operating in the market. Capacity expansion and acquisitions are some strategies adopted by these companies to retain their market position. Manufacturers introduce hybrid biopolymers for improving the performance of biomaterials. They strive to commercialize L-lactide in a cost-effective way with the incorporation of advanced technologies and R&D activities.