Biopolymers: Properties, Processing, and Applications

Biopolymers are naturally occurring polymers, which are produced by living organisms. They are distinct from synthetic biodegradable polymers.

There has been growing concern about the negative impacts of environmental pollution from fossil fuels and waste from petrochemical products. A lot of research has gone into exploring other alternatives to petroleum-based products which would be renewable as well as biodegradable and thus pose a lesser risk to the environment. Biopolymers are one such possible solution to the problem because they are typically biodegradable materials obtained from renewable raw materials. However, it must be noted that not all biodegradable polymers are biopolymers (i.e. produced from renewable resources). As one might expect, there are challenges related to biopolymers such as their limited rate of production, cost of production and the suitability of their properties.

Some of the first modern biomaterials made from natural biopolymers include rubber, linoleum, celluloid and cellophane. The latter two are made using cellulose, which is the most naturally abundant biopolymer and the most abundant organic material on Earth, making up a third of all plant matter. Since the middle of the 20th century, these human-made biopolymers were virtually all replaced with petrochemical-based materials. However, due to growing ecological concerns, biopolymers are enjoying renewed interest from the scientific community, the industrial sector and even in politics [1].

In this article, you will learn about: 

  • The properties of biopolymers
  • The production and processing of biopolymers
  • Applications of biopolymers
  • Examples of biopolymers
  • The future of biopolymers

Looking to explore different types of commercially available biopolymers? Explore more than 100 different grades here.

Explore different bio-based polymers on Matmatch

Properties of biopolymers

The main interest in biopolymers is to replace many of the everyday items which are made from petroleum products. This means that they will be required to exhibit similar, if not better, properties than the materials they replace to make them suitable for the various applications that they will be put to. Much of the property measurements of biopolymers have variance due to factors such as degree of polymerisation, type and concentration of additives, and presence of reinforcement materials. Information about the properties of biopolymers is not as extensive as for traditional polymers, but there is still a considerable depth of investigation into their physical, mechanical, thermal properties [2].

Some biopolymers have been identified to possess electronic and ionic conductivity and have thus been termed electro-active biopolymers (EABP). This has given them the potential to replace other synthetic materials. These biopolymers, which include starch, cellulose, chitosan and pectin, show a wide-ranging electrical conductivity between 10-3 and 10-14 S/cm [3].

Table 1. Physical, mechanical and thermal properties of some commercial biopolymers.

(You can also compare these materials visually on the Matmatch comparison page)



at 23 °C

Tensile strength

at 23 °C

Flexural modulus 

at 23 °C

Melting point


at 23 °C

PLA Luminy® LX530

1.24 g/cm³

50 MPa


165 °C

5 %

Rilsan® BMNO

1.03 g/cm³



189 °C

50 %

NuPlastiQ®BC 27240

1.3 g/cm³


0.24 GPa

140 - 160 °C

272 %

Extrudr Wood Filament

1.23 g/cm³

40 MPa

3.2 GPa

150 - 170 °C


DuraSense Eco PP L40 Food

1.06 g/cm³

49 MPa

4 GPa


3.5 %

The production and processing of biopolymers

There are many different methods and techniques used to produce biopolymers. Since most of these polymers already exist in nature or are produced by natural organisms, these processes are often a matter of extraction followed by synthesis. They may include a combination of any of fermentation, filtration, compounding/granulation, hydrolysis, esterification, poly-condensation, oxidation and dehydration. Below is an example of the production process involved in making polybutylene succinate (PBS).

Figure 1. Process route for the production of polybutylene succinate (PBS) with bio-based succinic acid (PBS bb SCA) [1].

Applications of biopolymers

Biopolymers are used in many industrial applications as well as food packaging, cosmetics and medicine [4]. They can replace traditional petroleum-based plastics in many applications. Some biopolymers have also been applied to specific uses that other plastics would not be suitable for, such as in the creation of artificial tissue. These applications may require biocompatible and biodegradable materials with sensitivity to changes in pH as well as physicochemical and thermal fluctuations [5].

Biopolymers, in general, often exhibit poor mechanical properties, chemical resistance and processability in comparison to synthetic polymers. To make them more suitable for specific applications, they can be reinforced with fillers which drastically improve these properties. Biopolymers that have been reinforced in this way are called biopolymer composites. The table below is a summary of some common biopolymer composites, their properties and the industries in which they are already widely used.

Table 2. Summary of biopolymer composites production methods, properties, and applications [6].


Production Method





Low stiffness/

High flexibility

Bone & dental implants food packaging



Improved rigidity & biodegradability

Packaging, automotive

PLA/Potato pulp


Low stiffness & ductility, good processability

Food packaging


Solution casting

Improved stability and bioactivity

Medical implants, tissue engineering, orthopaedic devices

PHB/wood sawdust fibres


Improved degradation in soil

Agriculture or plant nursery



Balanced heat resistance, stiffness, and toughness

Food packaging tissue engineering


Cast moulding

Good electrical conductivity

Super-capacitor, sensors

Rubber/potato starch

Roller mixing

Accelerated thermal ageing

Vibration isolators, shock mounts, electrical components

Potato starch/wheat gluten

Compression moulding

Improved maximum stress & extensibility

Development of bio-based plastics

Alginate/cinnamon oil

Solution casting

Good antibacterial activity

Active packaging materials



Good chemical stability

Drug delivery food packaging


Melt compounding

Good thermal stability & stiffness

Electronic packaging applications

Examples of biopolymers

Biopolymers can be classified broadly into three categories based on their monomeric units and structure:

  • Polynucleotides: DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid)
  • Polysaccharides: cellulose, chitosan, chitin, etc.
  • Polypeptides: collagen, gelatin, gluten, whey, etc.

Biopolymers can also be categorised by other criteria such as their base materials (animal, plant or microbial), their biodegradability, their synthesis route, their applications or their properties.

Examples of some commercially-produced biopolymers include [1]:

  • Bio-based polyesters such as polylactic acid (PLA), polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), polybutylene succinate (PBS), polybutylene succinate adipate (PBSA), polytrimethylene terephthalate (PTT)
  • Bio-based polyolefins such as polyethylene (Bio-PE)
  • Bio-based polyamides (Bio-PA) such as homopolyamides (Bio-PA 6, Bio-PA 11) and copolyamides (Bio-PA 4.10 – Bio-PA 5.10 – Bio-PA 6.10, Bio-PA 10.10)
  • Polyurethanes such as Bio-PUR
  • Polysaccharide polymers such as cellulose-based polymers (regenerated cellulose, cellulose diacetate) and starch-based polymers (thermoplastic starch, starch blends)

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The future of biopolymers

The figure below shows the increase in bio-based polymer production between 2017 and what is estimated to be the case in 2022. Furthermore, it is projected that biodegradable biopolymers will constitute a larger percentage of biopolymer production in the coming years. It is clear to see that biopolymer production is on an upward trajectory. While it has a long way to go, if it is to take over from petroleum products, production is forecasted to increase from 2.27 million tonnes in 2017 to 4.31 million tonnes in 2022. This is at least partly a result of public demand and government regulations, which will continue to have a significant impact.

Figure 2. New Economy bioplastics production capacities by material type [1].

Biopolymers/bioplastics suppliers

The following companies provide different biopolymer grades that can be found on Matmatch. You can contact the suppliers from the links below:

Explore different bio-based polymers on Matmatch


[1] "Biopolymers, facts and statistics," Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites, Hochschule Hannover, ISSN (Print) 2363-8559, ISSN (Online) 25103431, Edition 5, 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed Apr. 2, 2020].

[2] K. Van de Velde and P. Kiekens, "Biopolymers: overview of several properties and

consequences on their applications," Polym. Test. 21 (2002) 433–442, Aug. 2001.

[3] S. Muthulakshmi, “Investigations on the biopolymers papain, gum acacia, gum tragacanth and gum guar: Physical and antimicrobial properties,” PhD dissertation, Department of Physics, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli, 2013.

[4] M. E. Hassan, J. Bai and D. Dou, "Biopolymers; Definition, Classification and Applications," Egypt. J. Chem. Vol. 62, No. 9. pp. 17251737, 2019.

[5] L. Altomare, L. Bonetti, C. E. Campiglio, L. De Nardo, L. Draghi, F. Tana and S. Farè, "Biopolymer-based strategies in the design of smart medical devices and artificial organs," Int J Artif. Organs. Vol. 41, No. 6. pp. 337–359, 2018.

[6] A. M. Díez-Pascual, "Synthesis and Applications of Biopolymer Composites," Int. J. Mol. Vol. 20, 2321, 2019.

Biopolymers are distinct from biodegradable polymers. Biopolymers are materials produced from natural or renewable resources, as opposed to 'standard' polymers that are produced from oil. Biopolymers might be biodegradable, but not always; similarly, some oil-based plastics are biodegradable.


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Sports Equipment

Winter Sports Equipment

Fluid Systems


Gas Pipelines

Heat Pipelines

Plastics Pipes

Rubber & Plastic Industries

Rubber & Plastics Products



Packaging Material

Raw Materials For Rubber & Plastics

Raw Materials For Rubber & Plastics In General

Auxiliary Materials & Additives For Plastics

Rubber & Plastics Products In General

Textile Industry

Textile Fibres

Textile Fibres In General

Man-Made Fibres

Mechanical Systems

Rotary-Reciprocating Mechanisms


Combustion Engines


Medical Equipment

Medical Equipment General


Dental Equipment

Hospital Equipment

Environment Health Safety

Protective Equipment

Head Protection

Foot Protection

Other Protective Equipment



Plastics Fittings


Additive Manufacturing

Hand-Held Tools

Hand-Operated Tools


Other Hand-Held Tools

Electrical Engineering

Components For Electrical Equipment

Other Components For Electrical Equipment

Electrical Accessories

Electrical Housing


Other Electrical Accessories

Lamps & Related Equipment





Telecom Equipment

Mobile Phone

Paging Equipment

Audio & Video


Other Audio

Video & Audio Visual Equipment


Office Machines


General Automotive Parts


Road Vehicle Systems

Car Interior Components

Car Accessories

Commercial Vehicles



Passenger & Cabin Equipment

Food Packaging



Bottles & Jars

Cans & Tins




Clothes Fastenings


Agricultural Machines & Equipment

Plant Care Equipment

Lifestock Equipment

Forestry Equipment


Fishing Equipment

Wood Technology

Woodworking Equipment

Woodworking Tools

Composite Industry

Composite Reinforcements

Other Materials For The Reinforcement Of Composites


Building Elements

Elements Of Buildings In General



Installations In Buildings

Ventilation & Air-Conditioning Systems

Sanitary Installations


Interior Lighting



Decorative Applications

Domestic Electrical Appliances

Kitchen Equipment

Kitchen Utensils

Kitchen Furniture


Small Kitchen Appliances


Cutlery & Flatware

Other Kitchen Equipment

Cleaning Appliances

Shop Fittings


Trolleys For Supermarket Purposes

Technical Products


Miscellaneous Domestic & Commercial Equipment

Musical Instruments

Camping Equipment & Camp-Sites


Fused Filament Fabrication (Fff)

Fused Deposition Modeling (Fdm)

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