Biomass-derived monomers are nothing new. In recent years, breakthroughs in enzymatic and catalytic chemistry have steadily increased the quality and availability of bio-based feedstocks. Today, biomass is used to produce numerous renewable platform chemicals, while ongoing technological developments continue to yield new substitutes for petrochemical feedstocks.
Now, researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and research institute Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research, are collaborating with four companies - BASF, GreenICT, Synbra and DSM -on the development of various processes to produce styrene and acrylic acid from plant materials for the very first time.
Styrene and acrylates are two of the most widely used bulk chemicals in the world, and they are presently being produced from fossil sources. These chemical building blocks are in turn used to produce coatings, optical fibers, glues, and a range of plastic materials. In the research project, 'Acrylic and Styrenic Monomers and Polymers from Biomass' (ACTION), work is ongoing to derive these bulk chemicals from plant-based sugars and protein-rich residual biomass, which are released during the production of biofuels, feedstocks that would otherwise be waste streams. "Based on our patent and the scientific literature, we think we will be able to produce these compounds from biomass. All the necessary process steps have not yet been carried out in the right order, but that is what we now intend to do," explains Jérôme Le Nôtre, project manager of the ACTION project.