Biomass as a Source of Chemical Feedstocks: An Economic Evaluation

Science  31 Jul 1981:
Vol. 213, Issue 4507, pp. 513-517
DOI: 10.1126/science.213.4507.513


It is suggested that the raw materials and technology exist for basing a major fraction of the U.S. chemical industry on four fermentation products, used in the proper portions: ethanol, isopropanol, n-butanol, and 2,3-butanediol. The primary route for introduction of these materials is dehydration of the alcohols and diols to olefins, which would cause little disruption of the existing industry downstream from the olefins. The proposed substitution has the advantages that it would provide a smooth transition toward renewable feedstocks, while decreasing dependence on fossil sources of organic material and use of toxic materials. However, to make these materials attractive as feedstocks or intermediates in chemical production, their current prices must be substantially reduced. Even with the optimum mix, their largeseale utilization will only occur at about 20 to 40 percent of their estimated chemical prices.