Making BioBased Products

How are biobased products made?

The first step in bioproduct creation is the collection of the biomass, which can include algae, wood pulp, biowaste, or other organic material. In the case of corn collection, tractors may be used to collect the husks or stalks. Some preliminary steps may be required before actual processing begins in order to prepare the base material for a large-scale reaction. Once the mass is ready, there are many processing techniques which can be used to yield various products. These processes include thermochemical and enzymatic processing as well as pyrolysis. The type of process is chosen based on the desired end chemical building block. After this step has been completed, the new materials are manipulated and reacted to a biobased product.

What are some biobased products?

Ethylene is a useful chemical due to the many products which can be made from it. The majority of ethylene is petroleum based but recent advances in technology revealed the key to producing biobased ethylene. Using lignocellulose conversion technology, ethylene can be produced as a product of lignocelluloses fermentation. Ethylene can be used to make polyethylene, vinyl chloride, ethanol, and styrene.  Alternatively, biobased ethylene can be derived from bioethanol.

Another group of important biobased products are fatty acids, which are obtained from algae or vegetable oils. Fatty acids are commonly used to make lubricants, soaps, and biodiesel.

Acetic acid (or vinegar) is also a biobased chemical which can be made by corn starch fermentation. Acetic acid is used in production of dyes, solvents, and various pharmaceuticals.

How are biobased products being improved?

Vigorous research is constantly underway to discover better base materials and processes. For biological processes such as fermentation, many organisms are quickly analyzed and studied to determine those most efficient for the process. Once identified, genetic engineering is used to isolate the genes responsible for the efficiency and recombine them with other genes. This process further improves the economics, speed, and yield of production.

Other research is being performed to analyze the best base materials for production. By establishing a set of highly efficient building blocks, production can be streamlined and standardized. These materials would be the easiest to react and process to create a variety of products with high efficiency. Four biobased building blocks currently used are lactic acid, succinic acid, 3-hydroxypropionic acid, and isosorbide.