studies and reports

Biobased market studies galore!

It is time to post several market studies announcements that have been stewing in the blog’s draft box. These are mostly prospectus or executive summaries so of course you still have to pay for the full report.


A recent one is from Chemical Strategies Group as they look to develop a multi-client bio-butanol study. Within the biofuels application, butanol could solve two critical problems that currently occurs for ethanol, according to Informa:

  • Eliminating the need for refiners to purchase RINs from independent blenders – at prices that have recently been many times higher than in past years – since biobutanol can be blended at refineries and transported in existing pipelines (unlike ethanol, which is usually blended downstream at terminals).
  • Punching through the 10% ethanol (E10) blend wall and eliminating the need for refiners to purchase RINs (renewable identification numbers) from independent blenders at prices that have recently been many times higher than in past years.

The prospectus, which will be published via Informa Economics, cited other advantages of bio-butanol as a fuel. For chemicals application, the initial market for bio-butanol is expected at high-value chemicals, and as lower production costs are realized, the market is expanded to other chemical derivatives.  Potential market for bio-butanol worldwide is 1.3bn gallons at a value of $6bn.


Nexant has been churning several bio-based reports within the past year but the most recent one is about bio-naphtha, which has been of major interests within the renewable chemicals market since not only can it use existing petrochemical facilities but it has the potential to produce a wider range of chemicals than any other bio-based feedstocks or intermediates currently being targeted.

Naphtha is currently the dominant feedstock for steam cracking to olefins in Asia, Europe and South America. The potential for bio-naphtha is that it can directly produce the main building block chemicals of the petrochemical industry such as ethylene, propylene, butylenes, butadiene, benzene, toluene and xylenes as opposed to bio-based alternative approaches that target production of only one chemical, often at far smaller volumes and requiring many costly conversion and isolation steps, according to Steven Slome, author of the Nexant bio-naphtha study.

Feedstocks for producing bio-naphtha include natural oils, biomass and bio-methane via gas-to-liquids (GTL) technologies. Low natural gas prices due to the shale gas boom however, have reduced the economic competitiveness of bio-methane routes, said Slome.

Current developers of bio-naphtha using natural oils include Neste, Total, Syntroleum and the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota in collaboration with Tesoro. Developers of bio-naphtha using biomass include Solena, Rentech and UPM.

Other bio-based reports from Nexant include Next Generation Biofeedstocks, Cellulosic Sugars, and the use of Municipal Solid Waste.


Colin A. Houston & Associates (CAHA) just released their report on global fatty alcohols estimating the market at 2.5m tons with a consumption growth rate of 4.5% between 2005 and 2012.

A wave of new capacity at more than 1m tons is expected to start-up during the next 18 months but unfortunately purified ethylene oxide capacity expansions are not keeping up with the new oleo-based alcohol capacity, hindering the growth of ethoxylated products in the short term, according to CAHA president Joel Houston.

With over 60% of the new alcohol capacity coming from Malaysia and Indonesia, new surfactant plants in Singapore such as from Shell and Solvay, plans to couple the alcohols with ethylene oxide to make surfactant products that can be exported around the world. Alcohol-based anionic surfactants will be more favored in detergent formulations as nonionics and alkylbenzene sulfonates face respective supply constrains and competitive cost pressure.

Demand for alcohol-based products in Asia has exhibited strong growth, reported CAHA, from increased consumption in liquid laundry detergent products, greater consumption in personal care products, and surplus alcohols are being exported to Western markets.

In North America, however, shale gas economics have improved the cost-position of synthetic alcohols over oleochemical-based alcohols. Three surfactants accounted for 2/3 of the 2.5m tons of higher alcohols consumed in 2012: alcohol ether sulfates at 38%, alcohol ethoxylates at 21% and alcohol sulfates at 13%. The balance include tertiary amine derivatives and other derivatives including alkyl polyglycosides, methacrylate esters and direct end uses.

LS9 and Codexis are also included in the report as new developments in the manufacture of fatty alcohols from sugar.


Early this year, Lux Research reported that the use of biomass will be greatly strained by 2030 mostly because of aggressive biofuel mandate, and that feedstock innovations — such as crop modification, new value chain configurations and agronomic technology improvements  like irrigation and biosensors  — will be greatly needed to keep growing biomass’ market share.

Biofuels and biochemicals need more than 1bn of biomass materials today just to replace a mere 3% of total petroleum products. By 2030, This number wil soar to 3.7bn metric tons by 2030. The Lux report also analyzed the use of municipal solid waste and waste gases such as carbon dioxide and flue gas as potential feedstock sources.

Lux Research also reported late last year the need for bio-based material developers to aim for large, addressable markets such as composites and coatings, industrial manufactured intermediates and packaging. In the biopolymers sector, Lux said developers must offer biobased alternatives at cost parity, offer more bio-based drop-in monomers, continue to close performance gaps on temperature distortion and brittleness, and advanced biopolymers beyond their reputation as merely “disposable.”

Coatings is said to offer huge opportunities to substitute biobased raw materials especially offering elimination or reduction of volatile organic carbons (VOCs).  Industrial intermediate components also target huge addressable markets such as electronics, building materials, automotive, aerospace, and consumer goods.


F.O. Licht has recently released a report of feedstocks for renewable chemicals covering both first and second generation, and insights into their current and future potential and applications in the market.

The report noted long established renewable chemical fields such as organic acids and oleochemicals that mainly employ first generation feedstocks such as food crops.The younger markets such as biopolymers are showing stronger growth rates from a low level but these fields are struggling to stabilize production costs and upscale technologies to commercial levels.

Corn use in the field of renewable chemicals is estimated at 37m tonnes worldwide, with 33m tonnes from sugarcane and 7m tonnes from molasses. Wheat is used to a lesser extent at 3.2m tonnes, tapioca close to 1m tonnes and palm oil use hovering around 4m tonnes.

Second generation feedstock such as cellulosic biomass requires a pre-treatment which is so far costly and technologically difficult, hampering large-scale deployment of cellulosic biomass for renewable chemical production.

The report also looked into several renewable chemicals currently being developed such as PLA (polylactic acid), 1,4 butanediol (BDO), polybutylene succinate (PBS), 1,3 propanediol (PDO), and PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate), among others.

Annual production capacity for PLA is said to be about 315,000 tonnes with NatureWorks operating nearly half of the capacity. For biobased BDO, the report noted Genomatica operating a 13,000 tonnes/year plant together with DuPont Tate & Lyle in the US.

About Doris de Guzman

Will Green Chemistry save the world or is it hype? Doris de Guzman examines alternative processing, new technology, R&D and other sustainability initiatives aimed at preventing pollution; replacing ingredients; and using renewable feedstocks in Green Chemistry. She has been covering the oleochemicals market for 15 years and spread her beat to inorganics, biofuels and green chemistry.

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