The Sexy 7: The Bio Markets and Apps in PET, PX, PEF, PLA, PHA, PBS, and PE
by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) 200,200 downloads for the DOE’s classic report on value-added chemicals — but some hot molecules are missing! — “Top Value Added Chemicals from Biomass” a 2004 survey, completed by staff led by Gene Petersen and Todd Werpy, at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and NREL, is the Dark Side of the Moon of biobased, a perennial classic that has recorded 201,200 downloads to date via the Digest’s SuperData, alone, and gives the down-low on why 12 bio-based chemicals matter more than others.
Any number on entrepreneurs started down the road to developing companies and technologies to make each of the Big 12 — and some of them, like glucaric and succinic acid, have gone on to commercial-scale success.
Yet, there are 7 Monster Molecules that never made the list, 7 P’s in a Pod — PET, PX, PEF, PLA, PHA, PBS, and PE. Some of them have become even more important than any of those on the TVAC list — they are Billboard-esque Hot Bullets in their own right.
Clear plastic bottles? That’s PET. The Plant Bottle? That’s 30% bio-based content in PET, courtesy of making MEG (ethylene glycol) from renewables. The other portion is biobased PTA, which is a tougher-to-make.
Para-xylene (pX), currently produced by the catalytic reforming of naphtha, contributes 80% of the carbon in PET. There are three players to watch right now — Anellotech, Gevo and Virent. Others will come along.
PEF is a new rival to PET. It’s new and not yet made at world-scale, but tests have shown that it has better barrier properties and can support smaller bottles. For PEF, think FDCA. In that space, think DuPont, and just about anyone who can make 5-HMF, including AVA.
Now, let’s look at plastics used in other areas of packaging, besides bottling. Think PLA (polylactic acid) and PHA, which is a bio-degradable alternative.
The big story here is Newlight Technologies and it’s AirCarbon
In late 2015, we reported that Newlight Technologies signed a 20-year take-or-pay off-take agreement with Vinmar International for 1 billion pounds of AirCarbon PHA. Critical to the deal? Newlight’s catalyst aims to transform the economics of PHA-based plastics, solving low yields and high cost issues that have kept PHA from competing strongly with petroleum-based plastics.
What is AirCarbon, and what does it do?
PBS? It’s polybutylene succinate, so think succinic.
It’s found in everything from boxes, bags, tableware, even mulching films. We want it to be durable and tough — but then we don’t want to last 10,000 years in landfill, either. PBS is in critical ways the Lone Ranger of thermoplastics. Tough enough to get the job done, stays while you need him, but leaves town with a “hi-yo, Silver, and away!” Or should that be “bio, Silver”?
Polyethylene? It’s going to be all about apps that are adopted by customers in part because of their renewable attributes. Otherwise, ethylene is going to made at scale using fossil resources and traditional process.
The good news? Polyethylene has flexibility, chemical resistance and recyclability. Just a short step from ethanol, so there’s been long-standing interest from Brazil because it can be made from a renewable resource.
Let’s look at three cool molecules that didn’t quite make the Sexy 7. Biggest among them is biobased polyurethane, or PUR.
PIP and PMMA?
The DOE had its Top 12, but we like the Sexy 7 for having more immediate commercial application. They all make good bio-based options, but the new 10 are proving to have greater near-term market appeal.
What’s especially interesting to us is the transition from venture-backed companies chasing the original 12, to the strategic-backed entries chasing the Sexy 7. Braskem, DuPont, Cargill, Vinmar, BASF, Mitsui, Corbion, Purac, DSM – just some of the players working on this group — that’s hard evidence from established players that for these bio-based molecules , the time has come. READ MORE