Why use large amounts of energy as it can with less? Biomass already naturally contains valuable components which are formed by the incorporation of large amounts of energy (the sun).
The biomass feedstock can be for bulk (platform) chemicals, fine chemicals and specialties such as plastic additives. But also completely new chemicals with new and special properties can be produced from biomass. These green chemicals are not only beneficial to the producer (raw materials and energy), but are also better for consumers and the environment.
Three routes to bio-based chemistry
There are now several platform chemicals that can be made from biomass. This platform chemicals can then serve again as a starting point for the production of (bulk) chemicals.
In principle there are three different routes to convert biomass into chemicals:
1. Omzetting new (bulk) chemicals with unique features such as lactic acid or furandicarboxylic acid (FDA)
2. Omzetting to existing (bulk) chemicals such as ethylene, terephthalic acid or caprolactam.
3. Totale gasification of biomass into synthesis gas, followed by Fischer-Tropsch synthesis of hydrocarbons basis.
New (bulk) chemicals
Examples of new platform chemicals include hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), isosorbide, and lactic acid.
Carbohydrates (sugars) can be relatively easily converted into furans. One of these furans is a potential feedstock for alternatives to polycarbonate (epoxy resins) and as raw material for furandicarboxylic acid (FDA). FDA is currently being evaluated as an alternative to terephthalic acid in, inter alia, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which is used for production of PET-bottles or polyester textile fiber.
Isosorbide can be obtained from starch from corn, maize or potatoes, and forms the basis of a new type of phthalate-free plasticizers. Further, isosorbide extensively investigated as potential building blocks for new bio-based polymers (polyesters, polyamides).
Existing (bulk) chemicals
Examples of renewable platform chemicals for the production of existing chemicals include glycerol, unsaturated fatty acids and bio-ethanol.
In the production of biodiesel, glycerol is created as a byproduct. Currently, much research is being done on the conversion of glycerol to existing chemicals and building blocks such as acrylic acid (for polyacrylates in, for example, diapers), or ethylene and propylene glycol (for example, surfactants, or in polyurethanes for adhesives and sealants, or in polyesters such as PET ).
Unsaturated fatty acids from vegetable oils are already widely used in alkyd resins for paints. In addition, much research is being done on the conversion of (unsaturated) fatty acids in so-called linear α-olefins for the production of detergents (soaps, detergents), and certain types of polyethylene.
Bioethanol comes is becoming more widely available and, in addition to transportation fuel, an important raw material for the chemical industry. For example, ethanol can be converted into, inter alia, butadiene, an important raw material for synthetic rubbers (tires) and in ethylene, inter alia, for the production of polyethylene and PVC.