The production of biobased chemicals is not new, nor is it an historic artifact. Current global biobased chemical and polymer production (excluding biofuels) is estimated to be over 50 million tonnes.
Notable examples of biobased chemicals include non-food starch, cellulose fibers and cellulose derivatives, tall oils, fatty acids and fermentation products such as ethanol and citric acid. However the majority of organic chemicals and polymers are still derived from fossil-based feedstock, predominantly oil and gas. Global petrochemical production of chemicals and polymers is estimated at around 330 million tonnes.
Primary output is dominated by a small number of key building blocks, namely methanol, ethylene, propylene, butadiene, benzene, toluene, and xylene. These building blocks are mainly converted to polymers and plastics but they are also converted to a staggering number of different fine and specialty chemicals with specific functions and attributes.
From a technical point of view, almost all industrial materials made from fossil resources could be substituted by their bio-based counterparts. However, the cost of bio-based production in many cases exceeds the cost of petrochemical production. Also, new products must be proven to perform at least as well as the petrochemical equivalent they are substituting and have to have a lower environmental impact.
Historically, bio-based chemical producers have targeted high value fine or specialty chemicals markets, oft en where specific functionality played an important role. The historic low price of crude oil acted as barrier to biobased commodity chemical production and producers focused on the specific attributes of bio-based chemicals, such as their complex structure to justify production costs. The recent volatility of oil prices, the consumer demand for environmentally friendly products, population growth, and the climate impact of using nonrenewable resources have now opened new windows of opportunity for bio-based chemicals and polymers.
Industry is increasingly viewing chemical and polymer production from renewable resources as an attractive area for investment.
The biobased chemicals and polymer sector is fast moving. NNFCC maintains its knowledge of the sector through its industrial contacts and its position on key public working groups.
Current working groups include;
For reports and our monthly review of news from the bio-based products sector, see our publications store.