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22 May 2014 | Gurjit Degun
Plant-based chemicals have received an unexpected boost following the North American shale gas boom, a report from research firm IHS has found.
It explained that sugars, glycerin and other plant-derived products are emerging as “economically competitive starting materials for a range of commodity chemicals”.
The IHS Chemical Special Report: Chemical Building Blocks from Renewables puts this down to tight supplies of conventional chemicals such as propylene, isobutylene, butadiene and isoprene, caused by the shale gas boom.
“North American ethylene producers have switched from petroleum-derived naphtha to lighter, natural gas-based feedstocks,” the report said.
Marifaith Hackett, director of specialty chemicals at IHS Chemical and the report’s lead author, said that consumer demand and corporate sustainability initiatives are also driving the increased use of bio-based chemicals. IHS said that bio-based chemicals usually have lower greenhouse gas emissions than their fossil-fuel-based counterparts.
Hackett added: “Nonetheless economics has a significant impact on demand. Cost and performance considerations continue to outweigh sustainability in most corporate purchasing decisions. Some manufacturers are willing to pay a premium for the sustainability benefits and customer appeal, but performance of these renewable chemicals has to equal that of their fossil-fuel based equivalents.”