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Biofuels Stepping up to Replace Petroleum in Plastic & Chemicals Manufacturing

Biofuels Stepping up to Replace Petroleum in Plastic & Chemicals Manufacturing

As the price of petroleum edges up in fits and starts, booms and busts, substitution products are coming on board to replace petroleum in many uses -- including fuels, plastics, high value chemicals, lubricants, and more.

Making plastic from sugar can be just as cheap as making it from petroleum, says Dow Chemical. The company plans to build a plant in Brazil that it says will be the world's largest facility for making polymers from plants. _TechnologyReview

Rather than jumping on board the peak oil bandwagon of doom, many dozens of startups and large industrial players are lining up to produce substitution products and feedstocks.  The process of substitution takes time, of course.  But given the abundant energy resources of the planet, and the political will to develop them, there will be more than enough time to make the different transitions which will be needed.

Bio-based chemicals production has grown quickly in recent years, but it still represents just 7.7 percent of the overall chemicals market. Production has been limited in many cases to specialty chemicals or niche products. But Dow now says chemicals made from plant feedstocks may be ready to compete head-to-head with petrochemicals made in large volumes.

Most large-volume chemicals are made from petroleum. About 80 million tons of polyethylene are made annually around the world. But high oil prices have increased the costs of petrochemicals. And in Brazil, long-standing government support for sugarcane ethanol production has allowed the industry to drive down costs, making ethanol competitive with fossil fuels. Making polyethylene from sugar "would not necessarily be attractive in other regions," says Luis Cirihal, Dow's director of renewable alternatives and business development for Latin America.

The technology for converting ethanol into ethylene, the precursor for polyethylene, is not new. "The dehydration process for converting ethanol to ethylene has been known since the 1920s. The only thing that's really new here is the scale," Cirihal says. _TechnologyReview

Oil prices have been bouncing around from very high to very low for over 150 years.  Boom and bust has been the name of the oil game since it began.  Predictions of global oil depletion and consequent economic doom have been made over that same 150 year time period, and all have failed.  But that does not stop a lot of people from selling books, newsletters, seminars, and workshops in order to cash in on the cyclical sentiments of impending depletion doom which seem to come on with every boom cycle.

Trivial truisms lie at the heart of most mass delusions. The delusion of impending peak oil doom (POD) is no exception. The truisms at the heart of POD include: "the total supply of oil in the Earth is finite," and "oil wells deplete rapidly, once tapped." But the truisms can only take you so far, without questionable assumptions and educated guesses. A lot of people want to believe in doom, and are willing to take those leaps of faith into the unknown.

But there is no need to do that, if all you want to do is live a full, abundant, and satisfying life, despite the finite nature of world oil supplies. To do that, you merely need to keep a few general concepts in mind, and follow a small number of central parameters. More on that later.

By. Al Fin

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Leave a comment
  • Anonymous on July 30 2011 said:
    That's right Mr Al Fin. A lot of people want to believe in nonsense, and you are one of the gentlemen involved in supplying that item where energy economics is concerned.There is a shortage of oil, period! An aggregate (WTI + Brent) oil price of more than $100/b when the global economy is as weak as it is is bad news. As for "stepping up" the use of biofuels in producing this or that, the amounts that are involved are minor. If your readers believe something else, then they have a problem.
  • Anonymous on July 31 2011 said:
    Well, Fred you seem to have beaten me to the punch on this one. Mr Al Fin seems to produce nonsense on a regular basis. Last time I waded in to say so, the moderator disapproved of my language...Glad you've done it better than me this time. Actually he pisses me off no end, but his nonsense makes me appreciate the better contributors on this website even more.
  • Anonymous on July 31 2011 said:
    The title of this piece does not reflect the content. Dr. Fin says nothing in the piece about biofuels being turned into plastics. The piece appears to be about the entirely non-controversial substitution of renewable feedstocks in place of petroleum feedstocks for producing polymers and other materials and chemicals.If Dr. Fin is causing elderly believers in peak oil to feel a bit off their game, perhaps those honored gentlemen should seek medical help. There are drugs available from your neighborhood pharmacy today, for dealing with hyptertension, atherosclerosis, and hyper-excitability! 8)
  • Anonymous on August 01 2011 said:
    Alfonso, please. WE - meaning me and many others - don't care beans about what Dr Fin says about biofuels, because in a temporal sense his observations are completely and totally irrelevant.As for the peak oil bit, he - and apparently you - are unable to comprehend the most elementary economic arguments. Just LOOK at frequency diagrams for the largest 100 oil deposits. You don't even have to know how to add and subtract. His shortcomings can be understood, but I wonder why you would like to serve as his 'walker' or his 'beard' or his advocate or his intellectual flunky.About elderly believers and their game. In a seminar room or a conference, especially if there is a blackboard, I would make him or you or any other non peak oil believer feel so inferior that they would never want to hear the expression peak oil again. And that is only one half of what I would do to people who believe in what Ms Merkel wants for German energy.
  • Anonymous on August 02 2011 said:
    The other point about biofuels is this. They depend on cultivable land acreage to be produced. cultiveable land acreage is increasingly at a premium, esp. for growing food crops for people and grazing land for livestock esp. beef cattle. Therefore where are we going to get sufficient acreage from to guarantee land for producing human food, and land for producing biofuels sufficient to take over in producing fuel for trans-portation and for producing plastics? Unless we increase available acreage dramatically by improving irrigation in desert areas, by making a finite resoutce, water, more available when it is already reducing relative to need is also economically not feasible, like extracting oil from deep ocean and shale deposits.

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