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Sustainable Polyurethanes and the Bio Economy
by Lorenz Bauer (Lee Enterprises Consulting/Biofuels Digest) ... The use of biomass to produce value added chemicals for polymer synthesis is a major focus of the effort to replace fossil carbon. The theory is that these products can lead the way in developing the bio-economy until it reaches the scale where fuel production becomes more economical. It is believed that profits from the value-added products can be used to fund future construction and justify infrastructure improvements.
The development of polyurethanes made using renewable biomass carbon from natural oils, sugars or waste carbon dioxide provides an excellent example of the replacement of petroleum derived products. The question is if these new materials can play an important economic role and impact the bio-economy and environment as a whole?
The volume of petroleum carbon that can potentially be replaced by renewable polyurethanes is less than 1% of the total worldwide carbon emissions. The positive environmental impact was used to garner initial interest but almost certainly it was not enough to push the technology into commercialization, however it is a useful marketing tool.
Recycling of the polyurethanes is still considered a viable alternative to meeting future environmental regulations and has an advantage of reducing the volume of wastes. The effect of the use of the biomass derived polyols on this recycling effort still needs to be determined. This same problem has been a concern for other biomass derived plastics.
While sustainable polyols would contribute to the overall growth of biomass use and therefore, will help support infrastructure development, their contribution will be small. The producers acknowledge that the environmental impact is small but correctly mention that every little bit helps. Their main benefit will be to provide a net profit to their producers which is why they will be successful. Given this, the investment of public funds needs to be justified on the same economic basis. READ MORE