What are the prospects for the development of bio-based chemical materials?


Bio-based materials refer to materials derived from natural biomass, including materials that use biomass as raw materials or (and) obtained through biological manufacturing.

Bio-based materials are derived from renewable resources and have many advantages such as carbon reduction and sustainability.

Biomass raw materials instead of petroleum-based raw materials, the combination of biochemical methods or biological methods are the key directions for the development of the chemical manufacturing industry. Bio-based chemicals refer to products such as bulk chemicals and fine chemicals produced using renewable biomass (starch, glucose, lignocellulose, etc.) as raw materials.


100 billion blue ocean bio-based industry

According to the US “Biomass Technology Roadmap” plan, bio-based chemicals will replace 25% of organic chemicals and 20% of petroleum fuels in 2030; according to the EU’s “Industrial Biotechnology Vision Plan” plan, bio-based raw materials will replace 6% in 2030 -12% chemical raw materials and 30%-60% fine chemicals are manufactured by biobased.

Europe and the United States are pushing hard to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. China will follow closely. China plans to have a future modern bio-manufacturing industry output value exceeding 1 trillion yuan, and bio-based products will account for 25% of total chemical output.

With the advancement of the policies of the three major economies, the global carbon emission reduction process has begun to accelerate.

Environmental protection and sustainable development are rare global unified demands now and in the coming decades.

Against the background of global climate and environmental crises caused by increasingly depleted fossil resources and excessive CO2 emissions, the shift to a low-carbon circular economy has become a global consensus, and bio-based industries are an important part of it.

Taking plastic as an example, it can be used to produce PHA, PHB and other materials through engineering microbial modification.

Some of the current major bio-based chemical raw materials production applications are as follows:

Engineering bacteria transformation and application cases

Engineered microorganisms Modification method Material Product monomer/bio-based material application

According to OECD forecasts, in the next ten years, at least 20% of petrochemical products and approximately US$800 billion of petrochemical products can be replaced by bio-based products. The current replacement rate is less than 5%, and the gap is nearly US$600 billion. Bio-based chemicals and materials represent a new blue ocean with a scale of hundreds of billions.


Overview of European Bio-based Market Development

According to Nova Institute research, from a technical point of view, almost all industrial materials made from fossil resources can be replaced by bio-based materials. In recent years, advances in genomics, proteomics, metabolomics and systems biology related to biorefining technology have jointly constructed a biosynthetic network of chemicals and downstream materials.

Biomass synthesis raw material pedigree diagram
Biomass synthesis raw material pedigree diagram, drawn by nova research institute

European bioeconomy has first-mover advantages. The RoadToBio project led by the European Union has planned a roadmap for the European chemical industry to move towards bioeconomy, with a view to realizing a diversified bio-based product portfolio.

The RoadToBio project has subdivided bio-based products, including bulk chemicals, solvents, polymers for plastics, chemical fiber products, paints/coatings/inks/dyes, surfactants, cosmetics and personal care products, adhesives, and lubricants , Plasticizers and many other downstream segments.

According to the current subdivision standards, the EU bio-based product categories include 10 major categories such as bulk chemicals, plastics, solvents, and surfactants. Among them, bulk chemicals and solvents belong to basic chemicals, surfactants, personal care/cosmetics, Adhesives, lubricants and plasticizers belong to fine chemicals, and paints/coatings/inks/dyes, plastics and fiber products belong to bio-based polymers.

In 2018, the EU market’s bio-based chemicals and downstream output was nearly 4.7 million tons, the demand was nearly 5.5 million tons, and the output value was nearly 9.2 billion euros. Especially in the high-end consumer market, the demand for bio-based products is very strong.

Among the series of bio-based products, surfactants, paints/coatings/inks/fuels, fiber products and personal care/cosmetics have the largest output, which is attributed to the higher consumption level in the EU market and the large demand for bio-based oil and fat compounds .

Due to regional production scale and production technology restrictions, the overall price level of bio-based chemicals is higher than that of petroleum-based chemicals at this stage. However, as product categories become more refined and related technologies and production processes become more popular and popular The price gap with petroleum-based products will also continue to narrow.

With the continuous progress of biosynthetic technology, the selling price of some bio-based fine chemicals (such as succinic acid, PA56) has even begun to be lower than the corresponding petrochemical products.

Judging from the current level of development, the penetration rate of bio-based chemicals and downstream in the European market has only reached 3%, but the future market growth space will reach 4 times, and the global market is expected to exceed 100 billion.

According to the data provided by JRC, in 2018, the total output of chemicals in the corresponding sub-sectors in the EU was nearly 160 million tons per year, and the proportion of bio-based chemicals was only 3%, especially in the bulk chemicals and plastics industries. The base replacement rate is only 0.7%.

Judging from the content of the EU’s “Industrial Biotechnology Vision Plan”, according to the minimum target of 6% replacement rate of bulk chemicals and plastic products, and 30% replacement rate of fine chemicals, it is estimated that by 2030, bio-based products The output value of the company may reach 37 billion euros per year, which is a four-fold increase compared to the 9.2 billion euros in 2018.

In addition, during 2018-2025, the new private investment quota in the above sub-sectors is also expected to reach 19 billion euros, superimposed on the EU’s bio-economy special plan investment that has continued to increase in recent years, and the future bio-based products replacement rate has a lot of room for upside .

In addition to the EU market, the bioeconomy strategies of the United States and China are also being vigorously implemented. Assuming that the market size is equivalent to that of the EU, the global bio-based chemicals and downstream markets are expected to reach the level of 100 billion euros in the future.


The layout of countries in the downstream track of bio-based chemicals

The total output of bio-based chemicals has continued to grow rapidly in recent years.

According to estimates by IEA Bioenergy, the total output of bio-based chemicals in 2019 will be nearly 10 million tons per year (excluding fuel ethanol), with a compound growth rate of nearly 10% from 2011 to this year.

At present, the world’s major bulk bio-based chemicals include ethylene, ethylene glycol, propylene glycol, glycerin, butylene glycol, lactic acid, sebacic acid, etc., and biosynthetic technology has been industrialized.

Among them, the sugar-based compounds ethylene, ethylene glycol, propylene glycol, lactic acid, butylene glycol, succinic acid, pentane diamine, etc. are the key raw materials for downstream bio-based PE, PLA, PET, PBS, PTT and PBAT, etc. The oil-based compound glycerin, Long-chain fatty acids and fatty acids are used in the preparation of bio-based materials such as PHA, PA and epoxy resin.

Almost all traditional petrochemical giants are stepping up their deployment in the new track field brought about by bio-based chemicals.

DuPont acquired Danisco, a food, nutrition and biological company, for US$6.3 billion; Bayer and Ginkgo Bioworks jointly invested US$100 million to establish Joyn Bio; Sumitomo, Mitsui, Nippon Kayaku and Mitsubishi of Japan, LG Chemical of South Korea, and DSM of the Netherlands were looking for Transforming giants, such as BP, Shell, BASF, Dupont, Dow Chemical, Evonik, DSM and other large multinational oil companies Chemical giants have invested heavily in the biochemical industry.

The influx of a large number of new forces has accelerated the integration of bio-based chemicals in the new material industry chain.

Braskem is the world’s leading producer of bio-based olefins and polyolefins. The company produces ethylene from the renewable resource sugarcane ethanol, and launched green PE to the market in 2010. Now Braskem has 36 production bases in Brazil, the United States and Germany. Wait for the place.

Avantium is committed to the development and commercialization of next-generation bio-based chemicals and plastics. Its main business and technologies include the production of ethylene glycol (MEG) from plant-based industrial sugars, the conversion of plant-based monosaccharides (fructose) into various chemicals and Plastics (such as PEF), conversion of non-food plant raw materials into industrial sugar and lignin, conversion of CO2 into high-value chemicals through electrochemistry, etc.

Lactic acid is a relatively large part of bio-based chemicals. It is mainly used for the production of downstream degradable and environmentally-friendly new material PLA. Related companies mainly include Corbion in the Netherlands, Galactic in Belgium and NatureWorks in the United States. Corbion produces lactic acid and lactide. Sold to companies such as Synbra in the Netherlands to further produce PLA foam materials; NatureWorks and Galactic are the leaders in PLA. The latter also recycles PLA materials and further degrades PLA products into lactic acid.

China’s bio-based chemical research started late, but in the “Twelfth Five-Year” national science and technology support plan, bio-based materials and bio-based chemicals are listed as the research core, and the development of downstream material applications and business models has been vigorously promoted.

China’s leading amino acid company Meihua Bio, Cathay Biotech, a leader in bio-based dibasic acid, and Jindan Technology, a leader in the lactic acid industry, are all leaders in each sub-industry. While doing a good job in chemical business, it is actively deploying downstream bio-based materials.


Bio-based plastics are at the beginning of rapid growth

Bio-based plastics are currently the most important application field for downstream materials of bio-based chemicals.

Bio-based plastics refer to new materials whose raw materials are wholly or partly derived from biomass (corn, sugarcane, cellulose, etc.). According to whether it can be decomposed into small molecular compounds by microorganisms (bacteria, molds, algae, etc.) under certain conditions, bio-based plastics are divided into biodegradable and non-biodegradable plastics.

According to European Bioplastics data, bio-based polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), polylactic acid (PLA), polybutylene succinate (PBS), adipic acid/butylene terephthalate (PBAT) And starch-based plastics are both biodegradable plastics.

And bio-based polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), propylene terephthalate (PTT), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), nylon (PA) series and polyethylene furanate ( PEF), etc. are all non-biodegradable plastics.

Bio-based plastic products have two main advantages:

1) Excellent emission reduction capability, the CO2 emission of bio-based plastic is only 20% of that of traditional plastics;

2) Some bio-based plastics are naturally biodegradable, and non-degradable bio-based plastics can also be recycled.

According to European Bioplastics data, the global production of plastics in 2018 was nearly 360 million tons, while the output of bio-based plastics in 2020 was nearly 2.11 million tons, accounting for less than 1%. In recent years, with the growth of demand and the emergence of more and more bio-based polymers, applications and products, the bio-based plastics market has continued to grow.

According to MarketsandMarkets forecasts, the global bio-based plastics and polymer market is expected to be USD 10.5 billion in 2020. Driven by the industrial support policies of various governments, it is expected to grow to USD 27.9 billion in 2025, with a compound annual growth rate of 21.7%.

The world’s top five bio-based plastics are starch-based plastics (19%), PLA (19%), PA (12%), PE (11%), and PTT (9%). PBAT (13%) accounts for nearly 80% of total production. %.

Bio-based plastics

Europe is the main hub of the entire bio-based plastics industry and a relatively mature area of ​​ bio-based plastics development. It occupies a pivotal position in the research and development of bio-based plastics and is the world’s largest industry market. However, the market growth rate of bio-based plastics in Europe is relatively low. The output in 2020 will account for 26%, which is lower than 46% in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Asia-Pacific region is an emerging market. As the main production center, about 70% of the world’s injection molding infrastructure is located in Asia, so the market has the fastest growth rate. North and South America totaled 27%. In recent years, the output has increased year-on-year, and the market space is large. It is a bright spot for the promotion of bio-based plastics in the future.

Bio-based plastics are mainly used in packaging (hard packaging, flexible packaging), textiles, automobiles and transportation, consumer goods, agriculture and gardening, coatings and adhesives, building and construction, electronics and electrical appliances, and other industries. Bio-based plastics are suitable for packaging industry due to their good gloss, good barrier, electrical resistance and printing properties. Therefore, the packaging industry is the largest application field of bio-based plastics , accounting for about 47% of the total bio-based plastics market, nearly 1 million tons;

Global production capacities


Concluding remarks

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei once said at a symposium, “In the future, new materials will be like gene editing. Through editing molecules, materials that are harder than steel can be produced.”

Isn’t that the case with bio-based raw materials?

Just as controllable nuclear fusion (artificial sun) will realize the infinite recycling of electric energy one day, biological gene technology will eventually completely transform and subvert the entire chemical industry and realize the infinite recycling of all chemical raw materials.

Perhaps one day, we can synthesize “bio-based man-made oil” or some kind of bio-based “master key” to fundamentally solve the cycle problem.

From molecular engineering to atomic engineering, and even quantum engineering; from nanorobots to subatomic particle robots, human beings’ ability to transform and construct the microscopic world will make everything impossible possible.

From the construction of sustainable development to the complete realization of the recycling of all energy sources, the oil that has slept underground for hundreds of millions of years will one day be grateful that it has escaped the disaster of “extinction” under the ingenuity and efforts of mankind, and is fortunate to be loaded forever. The annals of human civilization history.

And only when that day (everything can circulate) comes, we can truly tell ourselves that we are ready, ready to embark on the long journey of exploring the sea of stars.

The ecology in the full circle is a necessary condition for high-quality interstellar colonization, and it is also a passport to the depths of the universe.

Until then, a thousand years and ten thousand years will be only one second and one minute.

As Arthur Clarke said, any sufficiently advanced technology is no different from magic.

And such a future is already beckoning to us.

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