Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Polymers from Biomass: Freeing Up Crude Oil for Other Uses

Crude oil is used for many things besides transportation and heating fuels. One of the many important uses of crude oil is as a feedstock for production of polymers -- plastics and fabrics, ropes, and membranes etc. Substituting renewable feedstocks for crude oil would free up more crude oil for other markets, and shift the economics of supply and demand in global oil markets significantly.

A company called OPX Biotechnologies Inc., is using a synthetic biology platform to commercialise the production of bio-acrylic. The acrylic market is worth $10 billion a year.
OPX Biotechnologies Inc. (OPXBIO) today announced another milestone that is a major step toward commercializing its more-economical and renewable alternative to petroleum-based acrylic acid. The company successfully demonstrated its fermentation process for bio-based acrylic acid (or BioAcrylic) at the 3,000-liter scale. _SacBee
OPXBIO is working with The Dow Chemical Company to bring BioAcrylic into the $10-billion market for acrylic used in products such as diapers, detergents, paints and adhesives.
Scale-up milestones are big proof points in this industry. We have increased the size of our BioAcrylic fermentations by more than 300 times with good results. This gives us even more confidence we're on the right track.

—Charles R. (Chas) Eggert, president and CEO of OPXBIO
OPXBIO worked with the Michigan Biotechnology Institute (MBI) to successfully scale up its BioAcrylic fermentation process to 3,000 liters. MBI is a not-for-profit company with 30 years of experience in derisking and scale-up of bio-based technologies. _GCC
All of the chemicals and polymers markets where bio-renewables could substitute for petroleum are worth at least hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Transportation fuels markets are worth $trillions per year, but the more lucrative high value chemicals and polymers markets are far more attractive to would-be biofuels manufacturers.

That is why smart companies such as OPXBIO will focus on the high profit, lower volume products initially. Once profitability and cash flow is initiated, these companies can work toward a more competitive stance versus petroleum based fuels.

Even in the fuels market, these companies are more likely initially to produce high value fuel additives, and fuel additives which help oil companies to meet political mandates and regulations, rather than competing head to head with petro-diesel or petro-gasoline.

Eventually, bio-derived fuels will provide more and more of the total product for transportation fuels markets, but that transformation is likely to take several decades to occur.



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