Fracking, innovation, ethanol and Silly Putty

June 13, 2013 |

silly-putty-homeNew technology from Novozymes has implications for prices, profits, markets and also Moms, Dads, kids and cows

We have a pretty important innovation to relate to you today — based on a product release from Novozymes, which is currently running away from the competition in the 2013 biofuel’s Hot Partners poll in the category of “Enzymes, yeasts & sugars”.

We hope we may be forgiven if we begin the tale with a note on Silly Putty.

The not-so silly world and technology of putty

Yep, Silly Putty. The clay-like plastic sold in an egg by Crayola, that bounces, can transfer images from newspaper funny pages, and has been silly-puttyused to entertain bored children on rainy days at home for two generations.

elmers-natural-glueBudget-conscious Moms and Dads, for some time, have known, from tips in magazines like Family Circle, that you can make a silly putty at home using Elmer’s Glue, water and starch. Now, they might not have known that Elmer’s, these days, can itself be made from starch — and a biobased version of the famous school glue is now available for sale (and fans of biobased products might put it on their back-to-school shopping list later this year).

Which is to say, you can make your own Putty, ultimately, from water and starch.

Now, if you have found yourself telling a child (or heard it yourself) “don’t put Silly Putty in your mouth” — it’s definitely not the water you’re being warned about. Putty is non-toxic — but there’s probably not a single doctor in the country that would advise you to eat it — or, frankly, to advise you to eat more starch. Starch is also known as “carbs” — and via books, TV and websites, doctors are telling us to cut back on it.

Protein and the growing world population

Now, there isn’t a starch plant – you have to fraction it out of a food crop which also contains, taking the example of maize, a protein fraction and a veggie oil fraction. With the world’s population growing — so too does the demand for protein go up, fast. Not just for human consumption — it’s fed to livestock from whom we obtain dairy products and meat.

As you might surmise, if you have a rising demand for the protein, but you have some issues with dumping more and more high-carb products down people’s throats and exacerbating the diabesity crisis — it would be a really good idea if you found a secondary market for all that starch.

Mom was right – go easy on eating that Silly Putty.

Alternative uses for excess starch

Now, given that products like Silly Putty have, well, a limited market — a zillion uses for starch have been developed over the years. You’ll find it in Niagara spray starch if you’re ironing any time in the near future. Metabolix has developed a whole range of biobased products, and Cargill’s unit NatureWorks has a range, too, around Ingeo fibers — just to name two among many. There’s Elmer’s glue, now, too.

Overwhelmingly, the major market these days for all that excess starch is conversion to ethanol, blended 10% with gasoline in the United States. Bottom line, the more added-value ways people find to use starch, there’s more opportunity to grow and deliver low-cost proteins and oils to feed a hungry world.

Now, markets determine prices, but applications create markets — and innovative technology is a key driver making new applications possible and older applications more affordable.

In today’s coverage, we turn to the topic of starch-based ethanol, productivity, the technology of turning residues into energy, and what exactly any (or all) of that has to do with “whiter whites and brighter brights”, fracking, feeding the world, and creating more energy for a globalizing economy – all via the page links below.

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