Biomass-based petchems will be competitive in 10–15 years – exec

15 March 2012 18:20  [Source: ICIS news]

PRAIA DO FORTE, Brazil (ICIS)--Petrochemicals and polymers produced from biomass will be fully cost-competitive with petroleum-based products on a global basis in 10–15 years, an industry executive said on Thursday.

“Commercial-scale biorefineries that can cost-competitively produce chemicals from cellulose and agricultural waste will take time,” said Jose Carlos Grubisich, former CEO of Brazil-based ethanol producer ETH Bioenergia.

Grubisich, who left ETH Bioenergia at the end of February to become CEO of Brazil-based pulp and paper company Eldorado, spoke at the sixth EBDQUIM conference hosted by Associquim/Sincoquim (Brazilian Association of Chemical and Petrochemical Distributors).

In Brazil, sugarcane and eucalyptus trees will provide the chemical feedstocks of the future, he said.

“The application of biotechnology through genetic engineering of sugarcane and eucalyptus will result in higher productivity and lower costs,” said Grubisich.

“This will start happening in the next few years,” he added.

He highlighted companies leading the way in developing fermentation processes for biomass-based chemicals such as US firms Amyris, Solazyme and LS9.

Companies developing other technologies to produce chemicals and naphtha from biomass include US-based Mascoma, KiOR and Codexis, he noted.

“We are in a phase of transition in chemicals in terms of technologies. We must prepare for the age of carbohydrates,” Grubisich said.

While Brazil is currently producing bio-based polyethylene (PE) on a commercial basis, the executive pointed out that this is because of the nation's prolific production of sugarcane, which is made into ethanol and then into ethylene and PE.

“This cannot be extrapolated to other regions. However, as oil prices increase over time and new technologies are developed to make biomass more productive, it will become a competitive feedstock worldwide. This will be the start of a new reality,” he said.

Doris de Guzman examines alternative processing, new technology, R&D and other sustainability initiatives in Green Chemicals

By: Joseph Chang
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