Last edited 17 Jan 2021

Renewable chemicals

Renewable chemicals or 'bio-based chemicals' are chemicals obtained from renewable sources such as agricultural feedstock, agricultural waste, organic waste products, biomass, and microorganisms. They have a lower carbon footprint compared to conventional petro-based chemicals and are use widely as a direct substitution.

They account for about one percent of the global chemicals market.

End user applications include; industrial, transportation, food and beverages packaging, consumer goods packaging, bio-medicals, fertilizers, agriculture, textiles, environment, housing, recreation, and health and hygiene.

Some of the most commonly-used renewable chemicals are:

  • Polymeric: lignin, hemicellulose, cellulose, starch, and protein.
  • Monomeric: carbohydrates, oils, plant extracts and amino acids.

On the basis of chemical properties of renewable chemicals, they can be segmented into five different variants:

  • Alcohols (such as methanol and ethanol).
  • Polymers (such as polylactic acid or PLA, bio based polyethylene and polyhydroxyalkanoates or PHA).
  • Organic acids (such as formic acid, acetic acid, and glycolic acid).
  • Ketones (such as acetone and methyl ethyl ketone).
  • Others (such as 1, 4-butanediol, 1, 3-propanediol, and Bio-BDO).

Alcohol had the largest market share in 2013; whereas the polymer segment has had the highest growth rate over the past few years driven by growing demand for green packaging from the food and beverages and consumer goods sectors.

The market is driven by the global trend away from oil, increasing awareness of sustainability issues, landfill issues, and changing consumer preferences, as well as the political instability of major oil producing countries and continuous fluctuation in price.

However, the rising concern of policymakers over food security and deforestation has emerged as one of the major challenge for the diversification of the renewable chemical market.

Europe was the largest market for renewable chemicals in 2013 closely followed by Asia Pacific and North America. The Asia Pacific is growing in double digits and is expected to take over Europe in terms of market share, driven by the availability of raw materials, cheap labour and increasing demand of renewable chemicals from growing countries such as China, Japan and India. Ref

Major companies operating in the renewable chemicals market include, Archer-Daniels-Midland Company (ADM), Amyris Inc., BASF SE, Bioamber Inc., Biomethanol Chemie Nederland B.V., Braskem, Cargill Inc., DSM, E. I. DU Pont DE Nemours & Company, Evonik Industries AG, Genomatica Inc., Metabolix, Inc., Myriant Corporation, Natureworks LLC, Novozymes A/S, OPX Biotechnologies, Solazyme Inc., Solvay, The Dow Chemical Company and Verenium Corp.

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