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New Chemical Feedstocks: Abundant Innovation

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A review of some of the talks present at the GC&E Conference from the session, “Abundant Innovation: Pathways to new chemical feedstocks from CO2 and natural gas”

Professor James Clark of the University of York in the U.K., opened the session with an introduction on the problem of wasted. For example, discarded materials from food production are underutilized or wasted in staggering quantities—things like whey, corn stover, starch, sugar cane bagasse, and risk husks. “We are incredibly unimaginative about what we do with our waste,” says Clark. Even recycling doesn’t stack up—only 1% of all plastic is recycled in the world.

The production of chemicals and fuel from bio-based sources includes co-products of the pine industry in the form of Crude Tall Oil (CTO). Sarah Cashman from Franklin Associates (a division of ERG) presented the results from a life cycle assessment on the use of CTO for chemical products and fuel compared to petroleum and vegetable oil-based alternatives. The LCA boundaries included pine production and the distillation/processing phase, not use or end of life. The results showed that the global carbon footprint of CTO saves 50.7% when compared to traditional substitutes. The carbon footprint of CTO is significant lower when used for products that are otherwise derived from C5 resins, heavy fuel oil, ASA, and acrylic reasons, but equal to products normally derived from soybean or gum. Read the full executive summary.

Carbon dioxide is also a wasted resource, and potential source of energy and chemicals. Professor Andrew Borcarsly of Princeton University discussed his research in utilizing a source of CO2 plus water and renewable energy to create chemicals and fuels. His research shows that creating certain oxidized chemicals may be more efficient from CO2 than from oil—things like acetone, isopropanol, propylene, butanol, and formic acid. Borcarsly co-founded LiquidLight, a company that is perfecting this CO2-based,  low-energy catalytic electrochemistry to create a range of chemicals such as ethylene glycol.

Other talks included Leah Rubin from UC Berkeley on the use of nitrogen heterocycles for feul cells as an alternative to hydrogen, Lyndsey Soh from Lafayette College on using CO2 as a solvent in the production of biodiesel from algae, and David Calabro from ExxonMobile on the chemistry of CO2 capture.

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