How long before biobased chemistry breaks through?

Discussions about how long we have before fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) really run out have been going on for decades. Again and again, new resources are found or new technologies become available that make the production of previously unrecoverable reserves available. For example, the Arctic is known to have large amounts of undiscovered reserves of oil and gas. An American study estimated that the Arctic alone contains 30 percent of undiscovered natural gas reserves, or nearly two-thirds of the proven gas reserves in the Middle East and 13 percent of undiscovered reserves as far as oil is concerned.

We live in a fossil fuel-addicted society, and it won't be over overnight. Still, you can imagine that it really will "run out" at some point. Even if "running out" means that only the very hard-to-get sources can still be used, this will start to have an effect on the price level of these fossil fuels. Indirectly, this means that the raw materials used in the chemical industry are also becoming scarcer and will become more expensive anyway.

The development of biobased

The chemical industry in Europe is reluctantly seeking alternatives, such as raw materials based on biomass (biodegradable remains of plants and trees) instead of oil and/or gas. I deliberately mention Europe and reluctantly in the same sentence, because as with the implementation of revolutionary technologies to improve chemical and physical processes(process intensification), things are not going very fast here compared to other continents.

With shale gas in abundance, you might not expect it, but the United States is pretty much in the lead in allocating billions for the purpose of developing this so-called biobased economy, as are China and Asia. Now an innovation program has actually been established in Europe as well (between knowledge institutions, industry and trade associations), the Biobased Industry Consortium (BIC) to jointly develop the applications of biobased raw materials.

It is expected that the development of products based on biological raw materials must be sought, for the time being, mainly in smaller volumes with high added value. From orange peels, bioethanol can be made, for example, and anti-cancer drugs can be produced from limonene and cellulose for water purification. From sugar beets comes Galactic acid, which finds its application, for example, as a corrosion inhibitor and complex polymers from CO2 or biological source as raw material for bio-plastics. But chemicals produced in large quantities, such as ethylene and propylene, are still expected to be made simply from fossil oil and gas for the time being. Despite the fact that there are developments in chemical recycling of plastics into monomers or oil, which can then be blended back into fossil cracking feedstocks as food, this is still a long shot for now.

Clear choices

A company like DSM has, very cleverly, gone through 3 transitions since its inception. From mining company, via petrochemicals to bio-science. With that, they have set a clear direction and made the choice to become a specialist for bio-based chemicals. They produce nylon based on castor oil, rubber based on rapeseed oil and a polyester resin based on sugar.

So high quality applications using an organic raw material as a basis.

Source: website Mazda

In the past, the development of biobased products was sometimes blocked by the counter-argument that these products come at the expense of food. But with biomass feedstocks such as lignin, which is more than abundant, this argument falls away.

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