APLA '12: Hurdles for renewable chems persist despite demand

12 November 2012 16:56  [Source: ICIS news]

RIO DE JANEIRO (ICIS)--Renewable chemicals continue to face obstacles to development despite rising demand, an executive with Oxiteno said on Monday.

Millions of people are joining the middle class in developing countries, which increases demand for natural resources, said Andre Polo, development director of the Brazilian surfactants producer.

Polo made his comments during a presentation at the Latin American Petrochemical Association (APLA) annual meeting.

Increased consumption leads to higher amounts of carbon dioxide emissions. If nothing is done to address emissions, they are projected to double, Polo said.

Renewable chemicals could help address the problems of both carbon dioxide emissions and pressure on natural resources, Polo said.

In addition, a majority of executives consider renewable products a trend that is here to stay, Polo said, quoting the results of a survey.

However, the production of renewables still faces obstacles, Polo said.

Renewable chemicals rely on biomass as a feedstock, and biomass has oxygen, he said.

That oxygen has to be removed to make hydrocarbons, Polo said. Plus, biomass is bulky, making it less energy dense.

"We have a lot of mass for little carbon," he said.

For example, it takes about 3.6 tonnes of sugar to produce 1 tonne of ethylene, Polo said.

Likewise, if the world adopted a biodiesel blending mandate of 15% (B15), it would consume all of the vegetable oil that is produced globally, he said.

Depending on the source of the biomass, it will either be seasonal with limited production or it will be nonseasonal with year-round production, he said.

Despite its limits on production, seasonal biomass typically has sucrose, which is easy to ferment.

Non-seasonal biomass typically contains mostly cellulose and hemicellulose, and its sugars are more difficult to extract, Polo said.

After sugar extraction, the remaining biomass could be used to create energy, he said.

Lignin, for example, can be converted into energy or gasified to produce synthesis gas (syngas), Polo said.

Syngas, in turn, can be used to make larger molecules.

In addition to gasification, producers can use another process, pyrolysis, to convert biomass into bio-oil, Polo said.

Despite the challenges, Polo expects a biotechnology boom to take place, with high growth rates taking place by 2015.

The APLA conference ends on Tuesday.

By: Al Greenwood
+1 713 525 2645

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