Biobased Platform Chemicals: A Clean Credible Solution To Support Climate Action

November 29, 2015 |

GFBiochemicalsBy Marcel van Berkel, Chief Commercial Officer, GFBiochemicals, special to The Digest

There is a clear and growing need for new chemical building blocks.  As the world readies for COP 21 in Paris, this is more evident than ever before.  Civil society, policymakers and industry are all demanding new solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  These societal challenges we face need a low carbon solution.

For instance, fuels and additives derived from local-sourced cellulosic waste can offset concerns about first generation biofuels.  With a biobased fuel that is clean burning, the air pollution caused can also be reduced.

The situation is no different for industrial and consumer products.  So while fuels and energy often get the spotlight when discussing greenhouse gas emissions, clean credible solutions are also needed for the manufacture of products.

With current technology, it is possible to replace many fossil-based plastics and chemicals with biobased alternatives. Sourcing sustainable biomass can significantly reduce carbon footprint and biobased products are an attractive future for the goods we use every day, especially when they give additional performance and functionality.

Sustainable Building Blocks

Platform chemicals can greatly help to address greenhouse gas emissions because of their flexibility.  As the first and only company to produce levulinic acid at commercial scale directly from biomass, GFBiochemicals is quickly emerging as a leader in the sector.

Recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy as one of the most promising biobased platform chemicals, levulinic acid has far-reaching uses.  As with the success of other biobased replacements for fossil-based chemicals in industrial and consumer products, levulinic acid is perfect as a building block for wide-ranging applications.

Versatility Across Markets

In industry, levulinic acid has applications across a wide range of market sectors, though it is particularly useful for bioplastics and coatings.  The levulinic acid derivative diphenolic acid (DPA) can replace bisphenol A (BPA) and increase biobased content in coatings, for example.  Concerns have been raised about BPA because it exhibits hormone-like properties.  Several governments have investigated its safety and use in food packaging and consumer products which has prompted retailers to withdraw polycarbonate products which are based on BPA.

Phthalate-free ketal plasticizers are another example of levulinic acid’s game changing applications.  These plasticizers are biodegradable and can be used in flexible PVC applications.

For consumer products, levulinic acid has extensive applications for flavors, fragrances and cosmetics.  It has a creamy, buttery whiskey odor which offers a range of options in fragrances.  The platform chemical is also used in food compositions for maple and caramel flavors.

Levulinic acid acts as a pH regulator for both food and cosmetics which means it can replace fossil-derived acidity regulators like acetic acid.  Levulinic acid is an alternative to benzoic or sorbic acid in preservation systems and its antimicrobial properties are already used in perfumes and skin conditioning.

It also demonstrates a range of property opportunities for short and middle chain length polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA).  This could enable durable PHB3HV4HV products for film, fiber, injection molding and extrusion applications.  Such PHBV products have advantages compared to PHB.  These include improved fermentation yield, enhanced toughness and elongation properties.  A wider processing window is also possible due to the lower melt temperature and crystallinity control enabled by levulinic acid.

Breakthrough Development

Until now, biobased platform chemicals such as levulinic acid have been far from cost-competitive to produce.  This has limited most uses to high-end applications.  GFBiochemicals has changed all this with its commercial-scale plant in Caserta, Italy.  The breakthrough technology enables a fundamentally lower price range.

GFBiochemicals produces levulinic acid without intermediate process steps using proprietary technology, making it significantly more affordable for industry players and consumers.  A range of biomass can be used, including ligno-cellulosics.

A Green Future

At a time when the world is moving from fossil-based to alternative feedstock, new applications are being researched at this very moment which will only increase the versatility of biobased chemicals.  I’m proud of the expert team which GFBiochemicals has brought together to investigate these opportunities.  We will continue to look towards partnerships to develop the market for biobased solutions.

Chemicals like levulinic acid can serve as incredibly versatile building blocks for chemicals, materials and fuels.  Especially when they also successfully address many performance-related issues attributed to current products.  However, it is vital that these promising platform chemicals are sustainably derived from biomass, whether directly or otherwise.

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Category: Thought Leadership

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