Predictions about what the energy market and the global economy might look like in the future can feel a bit like stargazing — the closer something is, the clearer it appears. But if something is really far away, even the Hubble Space Telescope won’t bring it precisely into view, especially if it’s a still-developing solar system or a distant planet. That’s pretty much where things stand with bioethylene, which could become a shooting star but might also end up as a big cloud of dust. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the developing market for bioethylene: where it’s being made, what changes might make it more economical to produce in the U.S., and its target markets.
In our first blog on the subject back in November, which looked at how bioethylene fit into the energy transition discussion, we started with the basics. Ethylene is the cornerstone building block of the petrochemical industry, the precursor to everything from food packaging to construction materials, along with detergents, lubricants, PVC pipes, antifreeze, and all things polyethylene. The strong global demand for ethylene, along with efforts to meet environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, has led some to look at bioethylene as a greener and potentially economical alternative.
In contrast to traditional ethylene, which is produced via steam crackers using fractionated NGLs as their primary feedstock (ethane is used about 80% of the time in the U.S.), bioethylene can be derived from ethanol and represents a chemically identical alternative to ethylene. Proponents say its benefits include lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), a reduced dependence on fossil fuels, and fewer impurities. The feedstock for bioethylene, ethanol, can be produced from starches (corn, soy, wheat), sugars (sugarcane, sugar beets, sorghum), and biomass (wood, grass).
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