Friday, October 12, 2012

Biobased Polypropylene

In the past, most if not all commercial polymers were based on petroleum. That is changing as bio-based polymers are becoming more common. Polylactic acid (PLA) is clearly the leading commercial polymer with a volume of probably about 500 millions lbs. annually. Other polymers are available, polyhydroxy alkanoates (PHA's) for one, but these polymers have yet to achieve the volumes to be deemed a commercial success.

Further up the development pipeline are other biobased polymers that are, at least from a chemical structure viewpoint, drop-in replacements. [*] Dow/Braskem are working on biobased polyethylene, and Coke has a supplier for biobased PET. Now comes an announcement that a biobased polypropylene is being worked on. Making propylene monomer without petroleum feedstocks is pretty challenging:
"Since there are no known natural pathways leading to propylene in microorganisms, creating a process for the direct bio-production of propylene required the design of an artificial metabolic pathway based on previously unknown enzymatic reactions and on novel metabolic intermediates."
As I said yesterday, we are beginning to see the future of chemistry and chemical engineering and it will not be anything like the organic reactions that we all learned as sophomores. We can either embrace these changes or let them run us over.

[*] I've discussed a time or two or three in the past that "drop-in" replacements are never that. Ask any engineer who has been on the job for more than 2-years and they will agree.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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