Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Producing bio-based materials with cellulose still far away from industrialization

Starch is the first choice for raw materials for producing bio-based
materials through fermentation. The price of starch is closely related to the
cost of bio-based materials. Take polylactic acid (PLA) materials for example.
PLA has the most advanced development among all the bio-based materials
produced through fermentation in China. Based on the technology in China,
generally 1.60 kg of starch can produce 1 kg of lactic acid through
fermentation, while 1.30 kg of lactic acid can transform into 1 kg of PLA. In
other words, theoretically, 2.08 kg of starch can produce 1 kg of PLA. Suppose
the price of starch drops by USD1/kg. The cost of PLA would reduce by
USD2.08/kg. Therefore, the cost of producing PLA can be largely reduced
especially when the output reaches 5,000 tonnes or even >=10,000 tonnes
, according to Bio-based
Materials China News 1411
on November by CCM.

Also, China is abound with waste straw resources (straw is rich in
cellulose). Both cellulose and starch can hydrolyze into glucose. Starch
consists of glucose. Considering the above factors, producing low-priced starch
with cellulose to reduce the cost of bio-based raw materials is a focal point
for research. Many domestic enterprises even stated frankly that they have
acquired technologies for the industrialization of producing starch with
cellulose. So far, domestic or global enterprises are still mainly dependent on
corn and cassava to produce starch so as to produce bio-based materials. Is it
feasible to produce starch with cellulose or to achieve the industrialization
of producing bio-based materials with cellulose?
Using cellulose to produce starch in order to produce bio-based materials
is theoretically possible. The application of this technology in the industry
still has a long way to go because of the unsatisfactory economic benefits.
Although both cellulose and starch can hydrolyze into glucose, they are not
There are two problems that will inhibit the industrialization of
producing sugar with cellulose. The first problem is removing lignin and
retaining cellulose from the extractive of straw. The other problem is how to
apply it in industrialization economically.
First of all, the cellulose advocated in China all come from waste, such
as straw. Besides abundant cellulose, a large amount of lignin exists in the
extractive of straw. Currently, it is technically difficult to only retain
cellulose without lignin. Only few methods are available in this procedure in
China. Purifying cellulose means a large expense. Not purifying cellulose will
impact the purity in the subsequent procedure.
Moreover, in the step of cellulose hydrolyzing into glucose, generally in
China, endoglycosidase, cxenzyme and exonuclease, C1 enzyme are used to help
cellulose decompose into cellobiose, and cellobiose will transform into glucose
with the help of glucosaccharase. Under the ideal reaction conditions set up in
labs, the transformation rate from cellulose to glucose is only 1/3. However, during
industrial experiments in China, some enterprises including Shenzhen Ecomann
Bio-technology Co., Ltd. carried out experiments on producing glucose through
this enzymolysis approach and faced many uncontrollable factors. The enzyme
activity, by-products and other factors made the productivity of glucose drop
significantly. The transformation rate of glucose is much lower than 1/3.
Furthermore, the selection of enzyme basically depends on the genes from
bacteria, soil fungi and potatoes. And Escherichia coli (usually used as
experimental model) is genetically modified with the genes to get the required
enzyme. It costs about USD1 million to transform 200 kg of cellulose raw
materials into 20 kg of starch. The cost is expensive, and often prohibitive
for the the use of this method within this industry. Therefore, domestic
enterprises turn to another method. This method involves destroying the
cellulose' interior structures like hydrogen bond by setting extreme conditions
such as high temperature and high pressure. The interior structure is then
reconstructed to get the isomer of starch. In the industrial experiments in
China, this technology can rarely reached its goal. The isomer of starch can be
difficult to attain, as expected. Also, the cost for industrialization is very
high due to the rigorous reaction conditions required. Therefore, this
technology and method is uneconomical and has been shelved. 
It can be seen that the industrialization of producing starch with
cellulose in China is very difficult and expensive, especially regarding the
two aforementioned steps, let alone producing bio-based materials with starch
from cellulose. The cost of producing bio-based materials with this method is
much higher than the cost of producing bio-based materials directly with corn
starch. Therefore, the value generated from the industrialization of producing
starch with cellulose cannot be achieved at present. However, considering the
large amount of straw requiring disposal (burning straw has caused major
environment issues like haze) and the urgent demand for reducing the cost of
bio-based materials, domestic enterprises have not deviated from their pursuits
for the industrialization of producing bio-based materials with cellulose and
the reduction in the cost of bio-based materials.
In order to realize the economic value of the industrialization of
producing starch with cellulose, domestic enterprises are still seeking for
technological breakthroughs to lower the cost for bio-based raw materials. In
the bio-based annual conference in Nov. 2014, Professor Zhang Jun from the
Institute of Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences (ICCAS) put forward the new
technology that produces cellulose ester though the homogeneous
functionalization reaction of cellulose in ionic liquid. In this technology,
ionic liquid promotes the homogeneous functionalization reaction of cellulose
as a medium. Derivatives are generated through the reaction, such as cellulose
ester and cellulose graft copolymer, which have homogeneous structure and good
performance. Enterprises are a step closer to producing bio-based materials
with cellulose thanks to this new technology. Currently, this technology has
not been largely adopted in the industry. However, the ICCAS has tried it out
at a small scale in some enterprises.
Besides, there is another way to produce bio-based materials with
cellulose in China. This involves selecting suitable polarity plasticizer to
destroy the coacervation of macromoleculein the cellulose of straw.
Subsequently, this macromolecule with hydrogen bondin cellulose can flow under
certain conditions. This produces thermoplastic bio-based materials. At
present, it is not feasible to use this technology for industrialization.
In general, all the problems, regarding the purification, enzyme,
conditions of industrial experiment, economic benefits, etc., have not been
effectively solved for the industrialization of cellulose. The technology for
the industrialization of producing bio-based materials with cellulose in China
is not mature yet, and there are no signs that there is a solid foundation for
industrialization to occur.
Development of bio-based PET severely hindered by overcapacity and
declining demand of  pertrochemical PET
Backwards development of bio-based succinic acid against development of
bio-based PBS in China
Analysis on development of biodegradable plastics
Standards for bio-based materials industry highly required in China
PLA boasts strong development potential despite restriction from raw
Crankcase cover made from bio-based PA awarded innovation prize
Bio-based PDO applied in furniture coating field
First bio-based smart card project launched in China
ICIS Asian Polyolefin Conference sees bright prospect for biodegradable
plastics in Asia
Sun Australia establish strategic partnership with TIB, CAS
Kingfa witnesses surged limit
Envonik passes FDA certification for PA1010
Guangdong Shangjiu makes technology investment into overseas bio-based
material projects
Development of bio-based materials still relying on policy support
R&D focus of bio-based materials shifts to modification technology for
Producing bio-based materials with cellulose still far away from
China makes breakthrough in straw enzymolysis to produce bio-based ethanol
and butanol
CNITECH, CAS makes progress in cellulose chemical transformation
Harvested corn launched on market forms downward trend in corn starch
price in China
China's castor oil market tends to recover from

Biomaterials, referring to products using renewable raw materials, have
developed rapidly in China in recent years and are expected to have a promising
market in the future, though this industry is emerging. Biomaterials are mainly
divided into four types in the news: natural bio-based materials, microbial
synthetic materials, chemical synthesis of bio-based materials and bio-nylon.
Undoubtedly, the application of biomaterials is the trend in the future, thanks
to environmental protection, excellent properties, etc. Biomaterials China News
includes12 to 14 topics per monthly issue andwill bring you the latest
information on the market and company dynamics, new biomaterials products, new
biomaterials technology development, new legislations and policies and raw
material supply dynamics that are shaping the market.

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