09 November 2012 16:34 [Source: ICB]
The drive for sustainability in the chemical industry through the use of renewable feedstocks is accelerating as a number of technologies approach commercial scale-up and companies seek alternative sources of often volatile and expensive raw materials. Great interest is being generated by growing availability of bio-building block intermediates such as ethylene, propylene and butadiene (BD), butanol and butanediol (BDO), adipic and acrylic acids, succinic acid, and so forth.
A major driving force for bio-chemicals is the demand from retail customers for products that have demonstrable green credentials
This leadership by the big brand names, such as Coca-Cola, Walmart and even automotive producers - especially the likes of Toyota, Ford and Nissan - can really set the pace for technology development as they demand, for example, all-renewable polyester terephthalate (PET) resin for soft-drink bottles.
In the middle ground, occupied by the specialty chemicals producers and even leading distributors, the search is on for greener raw materials and ingredients for use in markets such as paints, cosmetics, detergents and adhesives. Again, the stimulus is twofold: a more convincing sustainability story for customers and the public; and a spreading of risk on materials sourcing, away from still-volatile crude oil-based materials to those based on sugars, starches and other biomass, including waste streams.
BIG QUESTION TO ASK
The question, however, is how many producers and distributors are really taking the sustainability agenda to heart and developing a strategic approach to the issues surrounding the implementation and communication of a sustainability programme. Leading exponents, such as those that have earned their places in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index - including AkzoNobel, DSM, Dow Chemical, BASF, Bayer, to name a few - have clearly set out not only to implement but also to communicate their activities in this area.
To see how other companies are faring, ICIS Chemical Business is today launching a topical reader research questionnaire designed to discover how widely and deeply the sustainability agenda is being adopted across the global chemical industry - in companies both large and small. ICIS has teamed up with US renewable process technologies developer Genomatica to design the online questionnaire, which is being sent out to readers over the next two weeks (see box). This updates a similar survey by ICIS and Genomatica in 2009.
Genomatica is developing new, bio-based manufacturing processes that will enable its partners to produce intermediate and basic chemicals from renewable feedstocks. Christophe Schilling, Genomatica CEO, believes that "our technology is highly distinctive and can create renewably sourced chemicals for production of plastics, fibres, foams and other materials", thus assisting the drive to sustainability.
Genomatica expects its processes to deliver better economics with enhanced sustainability and a smaller environmental footprint than conventional petroleum-based manufacturing processes. Initial targets are BDO and BD.
Genomatica is currently working in partnership with industry leaders to accelerate the broad and rapid commercial utilisation of its production processes. To date, it has announced arrangements with Tate & Lyle, Mitsubishi Chemical, Novamont, Gruppo M&G, Versalis and Waste Management. Its first commercial-scale BDO plant is expected to begin production in 2013, at a plant owned and operated by Novamont in Italy.
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