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Renewable chemicals for green plastics gain ground

“Renewable” chemicals for “green” plastics gain ground

“Renewable” chemicals for “green” plastics gain ground
April 19, 2007

A bio-plastics revival is furthering driving up commodity prices according to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal.

The article reports that high oil prices are leading manufacturers to substitute agricultural produce-based plastics for petroleum-based plastics.

“Soybeans and corn are showing up in carpets, disposable cups, salad bags, AstroTurf, candles, lipstick, socks, surfboards, cooling fluid in utility transformers, and even the body panels of Deere & Co. harvesting combines,” wrote Scott Kilman. “There has also been growing demand from retail giants like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., newly sensitive to environmental pressure, for packaging made from renewable plastic.”

Kilman says the transition is generating interest among farmers eager to diversify demand for their products.

“Still, the use of farm products to replace plastics and other goods is generating buzz in farm circles, where many players are eager to diversify beyond food and ethanol. At the same time, there appear to be market reasons for a move to corn-based chemicals, especially as a hedge against uncertainties in the oil market.”

Kilman reports that “a $3.25 bushel of corn can generate $15 worth of bio-plastic… allowing for much greater profit margins than would come from turning the corn into food ingredients or livestock feed.”

He notes that optimists believe the biochemicals market could offset 10% of the petroleum used to make chemicals globally by 2020.

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High oil prices fuel bioenergy push.
High oil prices and growing concerns over climate change are driving investment and innovation in the biofuels sector as countries and industry increasingly look towards renewable bioenergy to replace fossil fuels. Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, has recently invested $84 million in an American ethanol company, while global energy gluttons ranging from the United States to China are setting long-term targets for the switch to such fuels potentially offering a secure domestic source of renewable energy and fewer environmental headaches.

More news on biofuels

Scott Kilman (2007). “A Bio-Plastics Revival Makes Gains at Cargill” April 19, 2007; Page A1 of The Wall Street Journal