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Biomass in a petrochemical world

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Dermot Roddy


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The world's increasingly voracious appetite for fossil fuels is driven by fast-growing populations and ever-rising aspirations for the lifestyles and standard of living exemplified in the developed world. Forecasts for higher electricity consumption, more comfortable living environments (via heating or cooling) and greater demand for transport fuels are well known. Similar growth in demand is projected for petrochemical-based products in the form of man-made fibres for clothing, ubiquitous plastic artefacts, cosmetics, etc. All drawing upon the same finite oil, gas and coal feedstocks. Biomass can, in principle, substitute for all of these feedstocks. Although ultimately finite, biomass resources can be expanded and renewed if this is a societal priority. This paper examines the projected growth of an energy-intensive international petrochemicals industry, considers its demand for both utilities and feedstocks, and considers the extent to which biomass can substitute for fossil fuels. The scope of this study includes biomass component extraction, direct chemical conversion, thermochemical conversion and biochemical conversion. Noting that the petrochemicals industry consumes around 10 per cent of the world's fossil fuels as feedstocks and almost as much again in utilities, various strategies for addressing future demand are considered. The need for long-term infrastructure and logistics planning is highlighted.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Roddy DJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Interface Focus

Year: 2013

Volume: 3

Issue: 1

Pages: 20120038

Print publication date: 21/12/2012

ISSN (print): 2042-8898

ISSN (electronic): 2042-8901

Publisher: The Royal Society Publishing


DOI: 10.1098/rsfs.2012.0038

Notes: One contribution of 9 to a Theme Issue 'Biofuels, science and society'.


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