July 25, 2011
Sugar Cane For Plastics

Plastic feedstock made from sugar cane in Brazil might be competitive with oil-based plastic.

Making plastic from sugar can be just as cheap as making it from petroleum, says Dow Chemical. The company plans to build a plant in Brazil that it says will be the world's largest facility for making polymers from plants. 

If transportation can be shifted to electric power and then biomass only gets used to make plastics can enough biomass starter material be grown for this purpose? Trying to move all transportation to biomass liquid fuels seems like a non-starter. Not enough tillable land to do that.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 July 25 12:52 AM  Energy Biomass


Comments
Nick G said at July 25, 2011 9:19 AM:

Don't forget plastic recycling. Currently plastic recycling is somewhat limited and some plastics aren't considered recyclable, but a hydrocarbon is a hydrocarbon: I can't imagine why 99% of plastic can't be recycled, dramatically reducing the need for feedstock.

Bruce said at July 25, 2011 1:27 PM:

"provided the price of oil stays above $40 to $50 a barrel "


Natural Gas is cheap in the US. Which is why new large ethylene crackers are being built in the US.

"with oil bouncing around the $100 per barrel mark and US natural gas selling for the energy equivalent of $25 per barrel. "

http://www.energytribune.com/articles.cfm/7861/What-New-Ethylene-Crackers-Tell-Us


Good explanation why plastic can't be recycled easily: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_recycling

Nick G said at July 26, 2011 9:29 AM:

Bruce,

If you look carefully at the article you provided, you'll see that 99% plastic is feasible, it's just not currently economically competitive with "virgin" plastic.

"Another barrier to recycling is the widespread use of dyes, fillers, and other additives in plastics. The polymer is generally too viscous to economically remove fillers, and would be damaged by many of the processes that could cheaply remove the added dyes.

"Du Pont opened a pilot plant of this type in Cape Fear, North Carolina, USA, to recycle PET by a process of methanolysis, but it closed the plant due to economic pressures.[2]

"Yet another process that is gaining ground with startup companies (especially in Australia, United States and Japan) is heat compression... The most obvious benefit to this method is the fact that all plastic is recyclable, not just matching forms. However, criticism rises from the energy costs of rotating the drums, and heating the post-melt pipes."

So, if all fossil fuel sources of hydrocarbons were to become much more expensive, plastic recycling would work.

Bruce said at July 26, 2011 12:30 PM:

Nick, "if all fossil fuel sources of hydrocarbons were to become much more expensive" plastic itself would be too expensive to make. It would become a luxury item.

Nick G said at July 27, 2011 3:17 PM:

Bruce,

Hydrocarbons just require hydrogen and carbon: hydrogen from seawater and carbon from CO2. It would be perhaps 2x-3x more expensive than from $100 oil, but if you re-use it 10 times then it's pretty cheap as a practical matter.

Nick G said at July 27, 2011 3:17 PM:

Bruce,

Hydrocarbons just require hydrogen and carbon: hydrogen from seawater and carbon from CO2. It would be perhaps 2x-3x more expensive than from $100 oil, but if you re-use it 10 times then it's pretty cheap as a practical matter.

Bruce said at July 27, 2011 4:22 PM:

If the primary component of plastic recycling is energy then it will always be cheaper to make plastics new than recycle.

Try and remember that most recycling is a conjob.

"Recycling paper to make pulp actually consumes more fossil fuels than making new pulp via the kraft process; these mills generate all of their energy from burning waste wood (bark, roots) and byproduct lignin."

Nick G said at July 27, 2011 11:20 PM:

Bruce,

Fossil fuel energy and feedstock are likely to become more expensive, while non-FF energy (wind, nuclear, solar, etc) will become less so.

Recycling is about reducing the feedstock input, not saving FF.

Bruce said at July 28, 2011 8:23 AM:

Nicl, they are flaring gas to get at the oil. NG is cheap and will stay that way for decades.

robert said at July 28, 2011 10:45 AM:

It takes oil to grow sugarcane!

Nick G said at July 28, 2011 5:09 PM:

Bruce,

I agree. Concern about running low on all fossil fuels is a very theoretical, longrun concern. Heck, the more plastic we use, the more carbon we sequester...

Robert,

It really doesn't. We use diesel now because it's still relatively convenient, but electric tractors (with either extension cords (literally) or small onboard diesel generators for extended operation in the field) are inevitable. Plus, there's ethanol and biodiesel, if desired.

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