In yesterday's post on my dislike for "drop-in replacements", I pretty much criticized the whole effort and didn't have much positive to say. Today's post will expand on my thoughts but also suggest a positive path forward.
As I stated then, my rejction of drop-ins is based on experiences (detailed below) showing that not only is it pretty much impossible to match all of the technical requirements, but also the economics are just not there either.
One of my first major assignments in my career was to develop a hot-melt-based adhesive as an alternative to the existing solvent-based adhesive. Things were going along fine from the technical end, but trying to get the marketing department to consider switching existing products to the new adhesive was impossible, and getting the accountants to calculate an NPV for the capital investments needed was equally daunting. Certainly there were advantages to the new adhesive and technology. Even 20 years ago, environmental concerns existed, so the fact that the new adhesive was "solvent free!" and "green!" was not lost on anyone.
Additionally, since there was no oven and thermal oxidizer needed in production, the changeover products would be a lower cost, but that argument I soon found was as effective as trying to convince someone to buy a new car just because it will get better mileage. You need to do an awful lot of driving with really expensive gas to make those numbers pay off. [*] The marketers were not willing to risk replacing a perfectly performing product with a new product that probably won't work in the exact same way, all just to save a few pennies per roll.
Where I really started to get buy-in is when I started developing new products. Then the coin was reversed - the new adhesive had presumption and the solvent-based adhesives were challenged in attempting to displace the hot-melt adhesive. This was a life lesson that I've never forgotten - don't develop drop-in replacements, do develop new products.
So that would be the advice I would pass on to the people developing new bio-based routes to existing monomers. Don't do it, or at least, don't call it a "drop-in", because it won't be and no one will take the chance on it. Do develop the monomers if you wish, but look for ways that they are better or different than existing monomers. Again, those impurities will be the key, as the main component will not be different. And look at developing new monomers, especially ones that would be far too expensive to make in beakers, but can be made by microbes with the ease that biochemistry mocks us.
[*] Say you upgrade from a 15 miles per gallon (mpg) gas hog to a new Prius for $20,000 (after trade-in) and start getting 50 mpg. If you drive the typical 12,000 miles a year, you will now only need 240 gallons of gas per year instead of the 800 gallons you used to need, a reduction of 560 gallons. At $4/gallon, you will save $2240 a year, so that the savings pay for the new car in 8.9 years. And that's just to break even.