I was recently asked to render some thoughts here….and I still find it amazing how despite all the good intention, the concept of fundamental economics seems still utterly lost on too many. Couple this with often awful climate politics where power and often graft dominates over actually doing anything good and we see quite simply a mess. So let’s get some clarity, at least on bio-based materials in our view, of what’s right and not. I’d love to see comments and thoughts, so feel free to pine away…
1. It’s known that we have enough fossil based materials to last another 400 years based upon geological data to date. The question will be the price of acquisition, but the fact is undeniable – it’s there. Add in a trillion dollar plus existing infrastructure and supply again and you have one hell of a barrier to success.
2. While much in your article is interesting, it’s ignoring a series of fundamental business and economic facts, the first of which is price. Unless the materials mentioned are lower cost in some way – outright, improved solution performance, and so on, no one will buy them in any significant way. As I like to say, being green should make you some green (US cash, that is, is green). I really could care less what you make. I only care if you make someone else money or a better day. So, I ask, what are the inherent, absolute killer apps for the mentioned firms? I’m taking proven and with customer interest and business cases to back it up. I saw nothing on this here.
3. Biobased is irrelevant – renewable is what’s relevant. It is utterly illogical to look through the one lens – you mention this admirably on energy – but not on chemicals and plastics really. The fact is, the chemical industry already recycles 100s of billions of pounds of chemicals within it’s own facilities. We are only scratching the surface of post-industrial and post-consumer recycling, albeit there are many challenges. Furthermore, new chemical and polymerization processes can save hundreds of billions in energy, like my own start-up, Sirrus (www.sirruschemistry.com) where ambient polymerization without significant or any energy input or solvents where by example in auto coatings alone through the whole process half the cost of any plants build and operating costs can be eliminated. It’s why GM is our second largest investor. That is estimated to save the US alone 5% of energy use in the long run. (FYI – we are pursuing a bio-based route with Lygos – Lygos.com). If bio-based can deliver, great, but its far from the only solution.
4. CO2, Methane – Gases are inexpensive and bio-based uses them often but what if normal chemical processes can use them? We cannot ignore that. The bottom line is that these materials are essentially free and do not have to necessarily use bio-based routes. Oil and sugar are the highs, natural gas in the middle and CO2 is at the bottom.
5. Big subsidies indeed are a very bad idea. If an idea is truly worthy, makes people money and it’s green, then it will blossom with exploding growth on its own. The logic here involves less efficient technologies persisting and unfairly competing when other, better prospects in solar, chemicals or otherwise are held down accordingly, especially if they do not fall in the currently legislated “subsidy category”.
6. Too much focus has been legislating away fossil fuels while inadvertently punishing the poor or poorer countries. Having soaring European energy costs on now ever more abandoned wind and solar projects that despite subsidies failed while non-European nation pay sometimes 10% of the grids energy process is absurd and has is crushing other’s economies and employment. Again, a comprehensive, holistic approach where only the true winner are rewarded for real solutions that are less costly while improving the environment and or resource positions only makes good business and societal sense.
7. Finally, I love bio-based. Nothing against it at all. What I’m against is doing it just to do it. There have to be compelling reasons beyond suspect climate issues and questionable resource plays. Work on solutions that make sense where the customers are lining up for real at the door, calling every five minutes saying “I gotta have it now!