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Renewable Chemicals

The chemical industry is slowly replacing fossil-derived chemicals by chemicals made from renewable resources such as wood, algae, and agricultural waste.  These renewable chemicals can be one-for-one, identical replacement materials, or in some cases they are new and improved versions of the chemicals they replace.

Ethyl alcohol (ethanol, grain alcohol, drinking alcohol) has been produced from renewable resources – grain, hops, molasses, starch – for millennia for human consumption by fermentation.  In the mid 20th Century, with the rise of petroleum cracking to make gasoline and diesel fuel that produced ethylene as a by-product, industry developed methods to make ethanol from ethylene.  This “synthetic” or “industrial” ethanol soon displaced renewable ethanol and was used for chemical processing, as a solvent, and as an intermediate in the production of other materials.  In the 1980’s the US introduced subsidies for corn-based ethanol, and soon renewable fermentation of ethanol regained its position as the major source for most uses.

While ethanol is the best known of the renewable chemicals or fuels, as oil becomes more expensive and harder to find, other oil-derived chemicals are being displaced by renewable substitutes.  Among the most prominent and promising are isobutanol, 1,4-butanediol, PET (polyethyleneterephthalate), and PEF (polyethylenefuranoate).  For some of these materials partial replacement of petro- by bio-based units has been achieved, e.g. PET where ethylene glycol from renewable sources alternates with petro-based terephthalic acid in the product.  Others, like PEF, are true replacements for their competition (PET) with different chemical structures and properties.

Development of renewable chemicals processes requires significant expertise and patience.  A renewable chemicals expert may assist clients in evaluating renewable chemical processes and investors in selecting the right renewable chemicals technology or renewable chemicals vendor and in preparing due diligence/feasibility studies and loan/grant applications.  During the R&D stage, seasoned renewable chemicals experts can provide insights into advantaged techniques for developing biochemical processes and knowledge of the vast array of prior work that is relevant to the client’s interests.  During the process design stage, the renewable chemicals expert may perform a peer review of the design, prepare risk assessments, and assist with vetting vendors.  During plant construction, the renewable chemicals expert might assist with construction oversight of the renewable chemicals handling facilities and provide commissioning reports.  They may also provide operator training, start-up assistance, and management to assist in making the facilities run as smoothly and efficiently as possible.  In matters involving renewable chemicals litigation, the consultant may serve an expert witness and assist the attorneys with understanding the processes and related technical issues and may testify in court about renewable chemicals technology, performance, compositions, and related matters.

At Lee Enterprises Consulting, we have a number of highly qualified renewable chemicals experts available to assist you with any related matters.  Feel free to call or email us for more information.