The chemical industry is mulling the prospects of a natural acid that has shown its ability to replace petroleum and related products for use in the bio-fuel and chemical industries. The introduction of Levulinic acid is a product of the breakdown of biomass material. It has been touted as a replacement for fossil fuels as the primary source of energy for the world. The market volume of this substitute biochemical product is said to be $30 billion. A company spearheading the initiative is GFBiochemicals based out of Italy. It also has operations in the United States (Minnesota) and in the Netherlands.
According to the chief marketing officer of GFBiochemicals promoting Levulinic Acid Marcel Van Berkel, ‘The bio-based economy relies on revolutionary new fuels such as Levulinic acid’. The production of Levulinic acid for use in chemicals and fuels markets begins with cellulosic feedstock. This 100% biomass material then goes through a technological process comprising thermochemical conversion and the product that is produced is the acid. The chief supporters of GFBiochemicals include the Polytechnic University of Milan and the University of Pisa. One of the plants which is producing the Levulinic acid – the Caserta plant – is expected to produce up to 1,200 tonnes of the product per year. Within two years, it is estimated that upwards of 10,000 tonnes per year will be produced.
According to the DoE, Levulinic acid is considered one of the leading bio-based platform chemicals and it is fully capable of being a substitute for all petroleum-based chemicals. It is especially useful in flavouring, pharmaceuticals, polymers, fragrances and personal care. Levulinic acid is also considered a suitable replacement for fuels. In total, it can cater to a $30 billion market comprised of the following elements: household/industrial cleaners ($2.5 billion), personal care ($1 billion), fragrances ($8 billion), plasticizers ($14 billion) agrochemicals ($1 billion) among others.
The other sectors where Levulinic acid can be used include bio-based acrylate polymers, nylon intermediates, polyester and polyurethane, polycarbonate and other LA derivatives. The company currently works with Segretis’ technology towards creating important derivatives from the Levulinic acid.’