Monday, December 15, 2014

Raw material restricting scale economic benefits from industrialization of bio-based materials

In China, starch sugar is the main and almost the only raw material for the production of bio-based materials. When the price of starch sugar maintains a high level for a long time, producing bio-based materials with cheap and abundant straw becomes a potential choice. In terms of the purchasing and storage of straw, its economic benefits are not optimistic. Therefore, using straw instead of starch sugar as raw material would still restrict the scale economic benefits generated from the industrialization of bio-based materials, according to Bio-based  Materials China News 1410 on October by CCM.
Raw material is a significant part of production. Starch sugar is the raw material for many bio-based materials, such as PHA, PBS and PLA. The high price of starch sugar is one of the main reasons for the constant high cost of industrialization of producing bio-based materials through fermentation. As the production capacity of some bio-based materials expands and the release of production capacity maintains in China, the problem of high cost would become severer and severer. Specifically, Zhejiang Hisun Group Co., Ltd. launched a project in Oct. 2014 to expand the production capacity by 10,000 t/a; Guangzhou Kingfa Sci & Tech Co., Ltd. gradually increased its PBS production capacity from 120,000 t/a which was established in 2011 and 2012 (progressively to 200,000 t/a in 2015 as planned); Nanyang Zhongju Tianguan Low Carbon Technology Co., Ltd. expanded its production capacity of polypropylene carbonate (PPC) to 100,000 t/a in June 2014.
Using high-priced starch sugar as raw material in the large-scale production of bio-based materials can not effectively reduce the cost of bio-based materials. Therefore, substituting the high-priced starch sugar with low-priced straw is a new choice for bio-based material manufacturers. As the technology of producing bio-based monomer or bio-based materials with biomass like straw improves (for example, producing bio-based ethyl alcohol and lactic acid through the fermentation of straw), bio-based material manufacturers are competing to exploit straw. Besides, severe weather like haze happens frequently. So the government strictly forbids burning straw. In this way, using straw as the raw material for bio-based materials may usher into an unprecedented development.
In fact, using straw as raw material for bio-based materials may restrict the scale economic benefits generated from the industrialization of bio-based materials. The lightweight straw occupies a large area and costs a lot for transportation. These features hinder the recycling, purchasing and storage of straw. Statistics has it that the annual output of straw in China exceeds 600 million tonnes, but the straw is distributed in dispersed areas, covering eight areas such as Northeast China and the middle and low reaches of Yangtze River. What's more, in recent years, it was more difficult to recycle straw due to the insufficient labor force in rural areas (a lot of farmers take jobs in the cities), which brought about high recycling costs to enterprises. Hence, low economic benefits can be gained from using straw as raw material for bio-based materials. Besides, domestic enterprises can hardly make technological breakthroughs in the production of bio-based monomer and bio-based materials with the fermentation of straw. It seems that it is not the right time for straw to develop as raw material for bio-based materials. 
With the high price of starch sugar, low economic benefits of straw and stagnant technology of raw material transformation, at present, the scale economic benefits generated from the industrialization of bio-based materials in China is still restricted by the raw materials

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