Concern on oil depletion and global warming has shifted us to sustainable alternative energy such as solar and wind energy. But we could not stop just yet to produce chemicals from petroleum oil. 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 is a various option for energy sources, but there are no sustainable alternative chemical sources just yet. Without chemicals, our lifestyle would not be the same as it is now.
Insight from plant oil
In the quest of searching for new alternative chemical resources, the plant has emerged as a plausible solution. Plant-based biomass such as soybean, corn, and palm oil have been used to produced bioethanol and biodiesel. 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.
Biomass a compelling solution
The scientist has realized now that biomass such as 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 have great potential to produce a variety of chemicals when processed at high temperature 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.
Outlook & Challenges
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.