- The entire field of biobased chemicals is growing but still sorting itself out in terms of real potential and commercial viability.
- There is a great deal of confusion in terminology, and the understanding of what is meant by biobased vs. biodegradable. The definition of biobased products at this event was: “Materials produced using carbon from non-fossil biological sources and may or may not be biodegradable.”
- The growth of biobased products is directly related to the availability of biomass feedstock both in terms of quantity and proximity to the conversion plant. Biomass needs lots of land and will compete with alternative land uses for food.
- Two of the most viable sources of biomass are lignin (trees) and algae, particularly through a fermentation route. Several companies have successfully built conversion plants for lignin and algae although scale has been an issue in producing commercial quantities. In general there is a 10 year timeframe from pilot to commercial scale in biobased production alternatives.
- The current direction is to use biobased products in higher value specialty chemicals or pharmaceutical products vs. fuel to reduce the time to recover investments.
Living Up To Our Green Heritage
As a longtime and trusted marketer of primarily vegetable-based products, Acme-Hardesty is always searching for new products that are derived from renewable, sustainable and natural sources for our customers just like our palm-based fatty acids, and our bulk castor oil and castor derivatives. As we all know, virtually every market is seeking green, more earth-friendly alternatives. In everything from personal care products and cosmetics to lubricants and greases, these attributes are important. And the innovators out there are trying to bring them to us. You can’t read any trade journal without finding at least one article on biobased* product research, and the sources for biobased products seem to grow daily. For instance, who would have thought that algae would be useful for anything except clogging lakes and ponds, and turning the ocean green, yet now it’s being touted as having huge potential as a biofuel. *According to Wikipedia, the term “biobased” was defined in 2002 by the US Secretary of Agriculture to be a non-food, non-feed product composed in whole or significant part of biological products or renewable domestic agricultural materials including plant, animal and marine or forestry material. To keep up with the latest developments, monitor progress, and to find those innovators whose products will be a great fit for our customers, we participate in events that offer high quality information and the ability to interact with those innovators and the people who will be the manufacturers of these products in the future. One such event was the “Understanding Bio-based Chemicals & Products” conference, held in late June, where representatives from our sales and sourcing groups learned about the latest feedstocks being used, the multitude of ways to convert these feedstocks to usable material, the economics of doing so, and the areas of controversy such as land use, water use, and food vs. fuel. To summarize what we learned at this conference: