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Engineering Materials

Let's Make Plastics From Our Southern Scourge

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Alexander Wolfe
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What are the economics?
Alexander Wolfe   7/12/2011 10:17:45 AM
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Interesting how the realization that oil prices are not going to be going anywhere but up appears to finally be driving serious searches for alternatives, not just in energy but, as you report here, in manufacturing processes which have traditionally been petrochemically based. I'm curious about the economics of cogoongrass-based plastics. Is it analogous to shale oil, in that it only makes sense when oil is really $$ (which would mean that if the price does dip for a prolonged period, cogoongrass-based plastics would not be competitive during that period)?

Douglas Smock
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Re: What are the economics?
Douglas Smock   7/12/2011 10:40:35 AM
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Good questions Alex. Bioplastics, in general, are more expensive than their oil-based counterparts. The price of oil, of course, is a key factor in the relative economics of the feedstocks. Whenever the price of oil passes a critical tipping point, producers such as Saudi Arabia step in to make sure the alternative fuels, energy sources and feedstocks don't become too appealing. DuPont and other companies say they are interested in developing feedstocks from waste biomass, but need to study the economics. Cogongrass is a good place to start.

The bottom line, however, remains the bottom line. Very few companies will pay a premium for bioplastics. There are negative property trade-offs in some cases that also need to be seriously considered. 

 

 

Rob Spiegel
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Re: What are the economics?
Rob Spiegel   7/12/2011 5:37:56 PM
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Doug, you're right about the concern in Saudi Arabia over the very likely possibility that high oil prices could make a wide range of alternatives to oil feasible. The Saudi folks want to see oil come down to $80 a barrel in order to prevent the widespread development of alternatives. I don't see that happening. I would expect greed to keep oil high, and I also expect that alternatives to oil will keep popping up as long as we're seeing $100 barrels.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: What are the economics?
Beth Stackpole   7/12/2011 5:39:37 PM
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Thanks for putting Cogongrass on our radar screens, Doug. I'm sure there are the "northern" and "eastern" and "mid-western" equivalents of the southern scourge that would make equally good candidates as alternatives to oil and natural gas for making bioplastics. At some point, the economics just have to add up.

TJ McDermott
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Re: What are the economics?
TJ McDermott   7/12/2011 8:25:43 PM
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Will any fast growing vegetation work?  Kudzu is also a southern nuisance plant.  Bamboo?  Blackberries?  All have growth that can be measured in inches per day, so would seem to be well suited.

Tim
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Re: What are the economics?
Tim   7/13/2011 2:21:48 AM
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I agree on the usefullness of Kudzu as a bio fuel. There is an over abundance of it in the South, and it grows fast enough to swallow cars stopped at red lights. Harnessing this plant for use as something good for the environment would awesome.

Dave Palmer
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Re: What are the economics?
Dave Palmer   7/14/2011 5:55:51 PM
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Wait a minute... if the goal is to eliminate the invasive species, then you wind up using up your feedstock.  Let's suppose kudzu-based plastic has incredible properties and everyone wants to use it.  How do you meet the demand, once you've successfully eradicated kudzu in the southern U.S.?

I agree that ideally bioplastics should be based on waste material rather than food crops, but I think this plan has a hole in it.

David McCollum
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Eliminating Kudzu
David McCollum   7/20/2011 11:12:12 AM
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I don't think anybody will be able to eliminate kudzu. That stuff will stand up to Round-up and these 100° degree Alabama summer days just make it grow faster. If we ever do find a use for it, that will be great.

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