Baby steps

Last week’s C&EN profiled some business ventures focused on non-fuel applications for biomass.

This shift away from petroleum and toward renewable feedstocks is accelerating. The world market for biobased chemicals—excluding biofuels but including bioplastics and chemical building blocks—was $1.6 billion in 2008, according to market research firm Frost & Sullivan. As oil prices fluctuate and technology improves, increased production of these and other chemicals should boost the annual market to about $5 billion in 2015.

If industrial reliance on petroleum is to be reduced, and if usage of biomass as a feedstock is to be increased, at all, the only way that has made sense to me was to proceed by baby steps: very high-value, very small markets first, high-value, small markets next, and so on until the scales are big enough and the risks are low enough to try making fuels.

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