The objective of this report is to assess the technological and economic potential of various routes to produce Plastics From Trees. Nexant seeks to illuminate the key issues surrounding a host of practical commercial questions, such as:
Trees are a prolific and renewable source of raw materials for a host of conversion processes. Trees have been used as raw materials for centuries (e.g., pulp and paper, building materials). The next stage in this evolution of trees and tree-based raw materials is being explored in a host of value-added products, including combined heat and power, liquid biofuels, and renewable chemicals, such as renewable plastics and intermediates.
Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow and provide a wide range of feedstocks, as illustrated below:
Technologies to tap the chemical precursors locked within biomass feedstocks (such as from trees) have improved over time. Products and pathways explored in this report include the following:
These are compared to traditional fossil-fuel-based routes.
Anellotech’s innovative Catalytic Fast Pyrolysis technology and subsequent processing to produce a renewable, wood-based para-xylene ( p-X), from which tree-based purified terephthalic acid (PTA) is synthesized; PTA is a key ingredient (along with monoethylene glycol) used to make PET:
The tree-based process only differs from the conventional petroleum-based process in the first step, using the CFP TM process to generate the BTX from trees, instead of from petroleum-based naphtha at an oil refinery.
Gasification of woody feedstock generates syngas, which is subsequently converted to methanol via the well-known Methanol-to-Propylene (MTP TM ) process, and polymerization of the propylene to polyolefin, as shown below:
This process has multiple steps but is rather straightforward, with each of the technologies having been proven commercially.
The simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (SSF) of wood chips to ethanol using enzymatic hydrolysis to generate sugars from wood chip feedstock is followed by the dehydration of ethanol to ethylene, which is subsequently polymerized to HDPE.
The pathway assessed here begins with technologies that have been long studied to extract sugars from cellulosic feedstock. The subsequent processes to ferment those sugars to ethanol, from which ethylene and HDPE are derived, are in practice commercially around the world.
Eastman Chemical Company was established as an independent supplier of chemicals for their photographic processes. They established two major platforms – organic chemicals and acetyls. Leveraging their knowledge of acetyl chemistry, Eastman began making compounded cellulose acetate, literally “Plastics From Trees,” in 1929; soon thereafter, this was sold under the Tenite TM cellulosics trade name (1).
Tenite TM cellulosics comprise a family of products grouped in three major categories, as shown below. Early applications of Tenite TM included several iconic consumer products, such as the first football helmets, early TVs, radios, and telephones, Duncan yo-yo’s, and others.
The process to make Tenite TM starts with softwood trees, which are pulped. This pulp is used to make a cellulose ester which is then mixed with plasticizers and other additives to produce plastic pellets, which are converted into plastic products.
Cost of production estimates have been derived for trees to plastics routes and compared to their traditional, fossil-fuel-based competitors:
(A cost of production estimate for Eastman’s proprietary Tenite TM process is not shown, although the process is described and yields are discussed.)
The tree-based production costs are compared to primary current fossil-fuel-based routes to identify which renewable pathways are competitive today. Cost of production estimates for the following fossil-based routes have been developed:
All cost tables given in this report include a breakdown of the cost of production in terms of raw materials, utilities direct and allocated fixed costs, by unit consumption and per metric ton and annually, as well as contribution of depreciation to arrive at a cost estimate (a simple nominal return on capital is also included).
There is a large and attractive potential to displace petroleum-based plastics such as PET, polypropylene, and polyethylene in existing markets, with bio-based plastics made from wood biomass feedstocks. Many finished products made from these plastics find their way into consumer product packaging, where marketing and environmental consciousness are important drivers of market share and financial performance. Well-known consumer product companies currently using bioplastic include some of the biggest names in consumer products, such as AT&T, Coca-Cola, Danone, Ford, Heinz, Johnson & Johnson, Mazda, Nestle, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Shiseido, Stonyfield Farms, and Toyota.
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