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Quest for commercial production of sustainable, high-performance plastics continues

Quest for commercial production of sustainable, high-performance plastics continues

12-Aug-13

The renewable chemical market is driven by increasing demand from the food packaging industry, biodegradable & compostable plastics, and other consumer products. The renewable chemicals market is estimated to reach US$83.4 bln by 2018 with a CARG of 7.7%. While alcohols currently form the largest segment of the renewable chemicals market, the polymers segment holds the maximum growth potential at an expected CAGR of 14.3% from 2013 to 2018, as per Fast Market Research. The renewable chemicals market includes all the chemicals obtained from renewable feedstock such as agricultural raw materials, agricultural waste products or biomass microorganisms etc. The development of this market is driven by the fact that renewable chemicals decouple economic growth from finite, non-renewable resource consumption, and also help diversify the feedstock portfolio. The renewable chemicals market is currently facing considerable competition from conventional chemicals derived from petrochemical feedstock. Because the chemicals market is susceptible to the volatility in crude oil prices, market participants are increasingly experiencing the need to make a paradigm shift from petrochemical feedstock to renewable feedstock. This move would not only bring in economic benefits, it would also successfully address the rising concern over greenhouse gas emissions and their lasting impact on the natural environment.

BASF, Cargill and Novozymes have announced the achievement of an important milestone in their joint development of technologies to produce acrylic acid from renewable raw materials by successfully demonstrating the production of 3-hydroxypropionic acid (3-HP) in pilot scale. 3-HP is a renewable-based building block and one possible chemical precursor to acrylic acid. The companies also have successfully established several technologies to dehydrate 3-HP to acrylic acid at lab scale. This step in the process is critical since it is the foundation for production of acrylic acid. In August 2012, BASF, Cargill and Novozymes announced their joint agreement to develop a process for the conversion of renewable raw materials into a 100% bio-based acrylic acid. 3-HP is a potential key raw material for the production of bio-based acrylic acid which is a precursor of superabsorbent polymers. BASF still has a fair amount of work to do before the process is commercially ready, and is confident to continue to the next level of scale-up for the entire process in 2014. Acrylic acid is a high-volume chemical that feeds into a broad range of products. BASF is the world’s largest producer of acrylic acid and has substantial capabilities in its production and downstream processing. BASF plans initially to use the bio-based acrylic acid to manufacture superabsorbent polymers that can soak up large amounts of liquid and are used mainly in baby diapers and other hygiene products. Presently, acrylic acid is produced by the oxidation of propylene derived from the refining of crude oil. The companies’ joint project team combines world-class expertise in biotechnology, renewable feedstock, industrial scale fermentation, and in developing new chemical processes. Superabsorbent polymers derived from bio-based acrylic acid will be a groundbreaking new offer to the market. Diapers made of such superabsorbent polymers could meet the demand of a significant and growing group of consumers in mature markets in particular. They also may allow diaper producers to meet consumer demands, differentiate their products and contribute to their sustainability goals.

In early 2013, German speciality chemicals producer Evonik Industries took the next step in its quest for commercial production of sustainable, high-performance plastics when it began operating a pilot plant for Omega-amino-lauric acid (ALS ) in Slovakia. ALS is an alternative to petroleum-based laurin lactam (LL) and in the manufacture of sustainable plastics, yields an identical PA 12. With the pilot plant running, the company has moved a step closer to developing a commercial-scale plant for the alternative raw material. The development of the biotechnological process, which is being funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research, relies on renewable resources. Evonik has selected palm oil as the starting material and has used it as a base for other chemical products. The new process has the potential to eventually complement the butadiene-based production of PA 12.
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