Concern on oil depletion and global warming has shifted us to alternative energy such as solar and wind energy. But we could not stop just yet to produce chemicals from petroleum oil. Because chemicals are essential building blocks for us to make fabric, plastic ware, container, paint, solvents, shoes, carpet, medicine, flavor, fragrances, additives, and much more. There are plenty of options for energy sources, but there are no alternative sources for producing chemicals. Without chemicals, our lifestyle would not be the same as it is now.
What alternative do we have
We never thought of producing chemicals other than from petroleum oil before. But we do have other alternative sources, they just not that popular until recently. Plant-based oil is for example. We use it for cooking. But we could use this oil to produce biodiesel, wax, lubricants, butter, margarine and etc. However, using a plant that contributes to the food chain is not sustainable. The price of cooking oil might go up and we need to pay more for our food. We need something cheap, abundantly available, and does not harm the environment.
The scientist has realized now that wood, corn stove, palm oil empty fruit bunches, and other plant-based waste could be used as a source of energy and chemicals. These materials will produce a variety of chemicals when heating up at high temperatures through hydrothermal, pyrolysis or gasification. The main compound of the plant is cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin or known as lignocellulose. When exposing to heat, the oxidation process occurs and those compounds are broken down to long and short-chain carbon similar to those obtained in petroleum products.
Separation and purification of these products is a very tough job because of complex composition. But it is good to hear that, we have an alternative source for our chemical in the future. It just a matter of time we could benefit from this new process.