Biological Substitutes for Petroleum Scaling Up Economically
Making plastic from sugar can be just as cheap as making it from petroleum, says Dow Chemical. The company plans to build a plant in Brazil that it says will be the world's largest facility for making polymers from plants. _TechnologyReviewRather than jumping on board the peak oil bandwagon of doom, many dozens of startups and large industrial players are lining up to produce substitution products and feedstocks. The process of substitution takes time, of course. But given the abundant energy resources of the planet, and the political will to develop them, there will be more than enough time to make the different transitions which will be needed.
Bio-based chemicals production has grown quickly in recent years, but it still represents just 7.7 percent of the overall chemicals market. Production has been limited in many cases to specialty chemicals or niche products. But Dow now says chemicals made from plant feedstocks may be ready to compete head-to-head with petrochemicals made in large volumes.
Most large-volume chemicals are made from petroleum. About 80 million tons of polyethylene are made annually around the world. But high oil prices have increased the costs of petrochemicals. And in Brazil, long-standing government support for sugarcane ethanol production has allowed the industry to drive down costs, making ethanol competitive with fossil fuels. Making polyethylene from sugar "would not necessarily be attractive in other regions," says Luis Cirihal, Dow's director of renewable alternatives and business development for Latin America.
The technology for converting ethanol into ethylene, the precursor for polyethylene, is not new. "The dehydration process for converting ethanol to ethylene has been known since the 1920s. The only thing that's really new here is the scale," Cirihal says. _TechnologyReview
Oil prices have been bouncing around from very high to very low for over 150 years. Boom and bust has been the name of the oil game since it began. Predictions of global oil depletion and consequent economic doom have been made over that same 150 year time period, and all have failed. But that does not stop a lot of people from selling books, newsletters, seminars, and workshops in order to cash in on the cyclical sentiments of impending depletion doom which seem to come on with every boom cycle.
Trivial truisms lie at the heart of most mass delusions. The delusion of impending peak oil doom (POD) is no exception. The truisms at the heart of POD include: "the total supply of oil in the Earth is finite," and "oil wells deplete rapidly, once tapped." But the truisms can only take you so far, without questionable assumptions and educated guesses. A lot of people want to believe in doom, and are willing to take those leaps of faith into the unknown.
But there is no need to do that, if all you want to do is live a full, abundant, and satisfying life, despite the finite nature of world oil supplies. To do that, you merely need to keep a few general concepts in mind, and follow a small number of central parameters. More on that later.