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Shale Gas Boom Giving Unexpected Boost To Plant-Based Chemicals

New bio-based chemicals could eventually compete with petrochemicals as feedstocks.



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Natural gas provides the chemical building blocks for a wealth of industrial and consumer products. But a new report from economic research firm IHS finds that plant-based chemicals are getting an unexpected boost from the shale gas revolution.

Most bio-based chemicals on the market now are derived from fats and oils and used in products like shampoo or detergents. But biochemical makers and agribusiness giants like ADM and Cargill are looking for ways to get in on the revival of U.S. petrochemical production. 

“The existing bio-based chemicals are probably still going to be used in more or less their existing applications,” says Marifaith Hackett, with IHS Chemical. “But new bio-based chemicals are being developed that are drop-in replacements for petrochemicals – chemicals that come from petroleum or natural gas.”

Hackett expects the cost of manufacturing such chemicals to shrink as the technology for producing them develops, and that eventually, they will be able to compete with fossil-fuel-based chemicals on price.

Although not at commercial-scale production, several tire manufacturers have formed alliances to produce bio-based synthetic rubber.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew Schneider is the senior reporter for politics and government at Houston Public Media, NPR's affiliate station in Houston, Texas. In this capacity, he heads the station's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments...

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