Synbra Technology, an Etten-Leur (the Netherlands) based company which produces sustainable bioplastics, is small (90 employees); but as a part of Synbra Holding (26 branches throughout Europe) it is a big player. Synbra Holding in all its European branches produces expanded polystyrene foam (EPF) for sustainable construction systems and packaging. Styrene itself is produced by Synbra Technology.
Since 2011 the company produces biobased polylactic acid (PLA), also used in foam (called BioFoam), but aimed to be used in a wider range of purposes. At present, Synbra is the second largest producer of this foam in the world. Synbra’s new high-tech heat PLA is going to be a real star product. As the first PLA product it acquired a Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) certificate, and it won innovation prizes. It is an excellent material to produce higher-value household appliances. Already, there is a large demand for biopolymers, because of their green image. The biobased economy has come to the consumers’ home. Thanks to Synbra’s innovation.
Changing image, better quality
Says Jan Noordegraaf, Synbra Technology’s CEO: ‘Until quite recently biopolymers had a bad public image. But that changed, just like with common plastics from oil – with the advantage on top of that they are bio-based, and in our case even biodegradable.’ The first generation of bioplastics could not withstand boiling water. Thanks to research at Wageningen UR, Synbra succeeded in producing a new sustainable high-performance material. Synterra®PLA , as it is called, is formed from a combination L- and D-lactic acid to produce a plastic material of superior quality. Jan Noordegraaf: ‘Without Wageningen UR’s research we could not have developed this material. This proves that it is absolutely necessary for a small firm like ours to cooperate with research centres, in order to get innovation going.’
The new biopolymer can be moulded into many plastic products by mechanical operations like injection moulding and thermoforming. Synbra is the first company to have developed bioplastics of such a high quality, and on this basis the firm can enter the market of high-performance bioplastics. Last year Synbra received the Accenture Blue Tulip Award, a Dutch prize, for the innovative qualities of its new PLA product. Synbra’s PLA pellets already find their way to Asia and the USA. In the Netherlands, Haval Disposables in Gemert produces coloured disposable cutlery from it.
Jan Noordegraaf is quite happy with the new Dutch government policy toward innovative SME’s. He perceives positive elements in top sector policy, notably extra subsidies and capital that find their way to SME’s through a revolving fund, and extra tax credits for research in SME’s, for which they could hardly qualify in the past.