Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Substituting for Crude Oil: Bio-Feedstocks to Petrochemicals

One of the main themes of the Al Fin Energy blog is the development of substitute and alternative feedstocks to use in place of crude oil, in the production of fuels, high value chemicals, polymers, lubricants, fertilisers, and more.

For example, RheTech Inc. is developing a new high volume composite material derived from sugar cane feedstock, which will replace oil derived materials in automobiles, construction, and consumer products:
RheTech, Inc. has developed a new grade of biocomposite using sugarcane-based, high-density polyethylene supplied by Braskem, the largest thermoplastic resins producer in the Americas and a leader in biopolymers. The new grade adds to RheTech’s line of RheVision biocomposites for application in the automotive, consumer and construction industries.

... Braskem is the Americas’ top thermoplastic resins producer. With 35 industrial plants spread across Brazil, United States and Germany, the company produces more than 35 billion pounds of thermoplastic resins and other petrochemicals per year. Braskem is also the world’s leading biopolymers producer with its 440 million pound Green PE plant that produces polyethylene from sugarcane-based ethanol.

RheTech, Inc. is a leading producer of filled and reinforced polypropylenes and color concentrates and additives for the automotive, truck, electronics, construction, and consumer markets. RheVision is a line of bio-reinforced polyolefins that currently uses wood, rice hull, flax, agave and coconut shell waste as reinforcement. _GCC

Substitution of alternative materials in place of crude oil, frees up more crude oil for global oil markets. Another example from the US DOE's NREL:
Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have developed a new photo-biological process for the sustained production of ethylene from CO2. The NREL team introduced a modified gene sequence encoding an ethylene-forming enzyme from Pseudomonas syringae pv. into a cyanobacterium—Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803—and demonstrated that the organism remained stable through at least four generations, producing ethylene gas that could be easily captured. Research results were published in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science.

Ethylene—a valuable commodity two-carbon chemical that can be oligomerized into transportation fuels—is the most widely produced petrochemical feedstock globally. The organism produced ethylene at a high rate and is still being improved. The laboratory demonstrated rate of 171 milligrams of ethylene per liter per day is greater than the rates reported for the photosynthetic production by microorganisms of ethanol, butanol or other algae biofuels. _GCC
Most crude oil being used today was originally created by micro-organisms, over geologic time scales. Humans are merely attempting to optimise microbes for much quicker, high volume production of fuels, high value chemicals, and other materials, so as to turn hydrocarbons into renewable chemicals and fuels, rather than "fossil fuels."

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