Bio-Based Chemicals Benefit From Shale Gas Boom

By Chemical Processing Staff

May 28, 2014

Bio (plant)-based chemicals are the unexpected beneficiaries of the North American shale gas boom, according to the IHS Chemical Special Report: Chemical Building Blocks from Renewables from IHS.

Sugars, glycerin and other plant-derived feedstocks are emerging as economically competitive starting materials for a range of commodity chemicals, in part, the report says, because of tight supplies of conventional feedstocks such as propylene, isobutylene, butadiene and isoprene.

The shortfall is due to the shale gas boom: North American ethylene producers have switched from petroleum-derived naphtha to lighter, natural gas-based feedstocks, reducing the output of valuable C3, C4, C5 and pygas co-products. These co-products, in turn, are the starting materials for a variety of chemical intermediates and polymers. Examples include synthetic rubber, an essential material for tire production, as well as nylon 6.6, used for fiber production and automotive parts, according to the report.

Of the bio-based chemicals now in commercial production (excluding ethanol), fatty acids accounted for 46 percent of total global bio-based chemical production capacity in 2013, followed by sorbitol at approximately 16 percent; glycerin at 14 percent, and fatty alcohols production at 11 percent. Lactic acid, furfural and several other small-volume chemicals rounded out the bio-based production capacity for 2013.

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