Because of low crude oil prices, times are hard for bio-based chemicals as they can rarely compete with their fossil counterparts pricewise and cannot even play a trump card in the matter of climate change. Nevertheless, industry and academia are developing bio-based processes fervently and with the prerequisite that the products must not be more expensive than conventional ones.
Frankfurt/Germany — Petroleum is a limited resource and if we keep using it global warming will accelerate. Since this realization has filtered in the quest for alternatives has begun. Shale gas and natural gas are only pseudo solutions as those supplies are finite and fossil, too. The only way out are fossil-free resources, bio-based ones that is.
In late 2014 the price for crude oil dropped below $ 70 per barrel and has not recovered as of early 2018. The prices for the chemical building blocks ethylene and propylene have roughly halved from 2014 to 2016. The dismal prospects have made big players such as Braskem and Dow Chemical shelve their bio-based propylene development. Thyssen Krupp Industrial Solutions has sent its multipurpose plant for organic acid fermentation in Leuna, Germany into hibernation in 2015 until better times, selling it subsequently to EW Biotech.
Of the total energy demand worldwide the chemical industry uses 30 % and it is responsible for 20 % of the industrial greenhouse gas emissions. In comparison, the amount of “C” that ends up as part of products is marginal. Consequently energy consumption is the main area to target if CO2 emissions shall be significantly reduced. Nonetheless, support for bio-based products is firmly anchored in the policies of many governments and the targets they have set are ambitious.
Bio-based Policies in Europe and the US
There is consensus in Europe and the US that guidelines on how to switch over to a bio-based economy need to be stipulated; the approaches to implement the change are quite different regarding the strategies of the different governments and the legislative conditions.
The European Union has agreed upon
- a 40 % greenhouse gas reduction by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels)
- at least a 27 % share of renewable energy consumption
- at least 27 % energy savings
More explicitly 20 % of the chemicals and materials in the European Union will be bio-based by 2020, rising to a quarter in 2030. In the United States the Biomass R&D board envisions a billion ton bioeconomy. By 2030 one billion tons of biomass is projected to be sustainably produced. It is supposed to be the base for emerging bioproducts industries, but mainly to target “a potential 30 % penetration of biomass carbon into US transportation market by 2030”. Plainly spoken this means biofuel in the forms of biodiesel or the addition of ethanol to gasoline.
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