Biotech's third wave

  • Article by: THOMAS LEE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 23, 2011 - 4:58 PM

Green chemistry start-ups in the Midwest ramp up to prove they can move from the lab to the factory.

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frag999May. 3, 09 9:19 PM

I design polymers for a living. I have seen green products and the marketing that goes with it. I have worked on projects trying to substitute green raw materials for pre-existing ones. It will fill in, but not perform as good as proven alternatives. From what I have seen, green raw materials are an equivalent (or lower performing) product made from renewable resources rather than refined petroleum products. In a world [currently] turned upside-down where green this and green that are considered value added products, you will see lower performing alternatives chosen and selling at higher prices than tried and true technologies. Backwards! Windmill vs. coal fired power plant; windmill vs. nuclear power plant(??!!?); What is going on these days? The government is wastefully directing our money in a backwards way. Green raw materials are simply another diversion and example. Wake up America (Minnesota too).

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demmer_21May. 3, 0910:11 PM

How can you expect the first generation of 'green' products to be of the same quality as similar petroleum-based products that have had decades to develop and perfect? We've had decades to improve the quality of petroleum-based plastics to the level they're at now. Now it's time to give renewables-based plastics a chance to improve.

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lflor1130May. 3, 0911:26 PM

Here we go again. This is going to be a bigger boon doggle than ethanol subsidies. Our tax money will go to "incentives" and then food prices wil climb. We'll take it in the bum just as we have on ethanol and biomass fuel.

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kdj12345May. 4, 09 9:02 AM

That people are so critical of the use of renewable and biodegradable polymers. Even if it costs a few extra pennies (or dollars), the fact that it results in less landfilling (or better degrading in landfilling) seems to me a significant enough benefit (and I'm a Republican!) Don't we have enough petroleum derivatives permanently in landfills already? As for the performance of the product, obviously it has to meet specs, but if I could get a plastic shopping bag that dissolves in a few weeks/months/whatever in a landfill, as long as it hauls groceries from point A to point B, I truly don't care if its tensile strength is slightly inferior to a petroleum-based shopping bag. What people don't see, I think, is that this truly IS a huge economic opportunity. Not just because it's good for the environment, but beacause other countries DO care about that, and are willing to pay more, etc. Having lived in Europe, I can tell you that the mentality there is different...people aren't tied to their beloved gas guzzler or giant McMansion...people really do care about conservation, etc. So even if you think conservation is stupid, it's a huge market opportunity for us, and I'm very glad (and not surprised) to see Minnesota taking the lead on it.

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Smokey48May. 4, 09 7:04 PM

Here's a peek at the future. The year is 2040. The cars will be electric. The power will be nuclear and the wind turbines will be pumping water on the farms.

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louw0013May. 4, 09 8:15 PM

Chemicals are not commodities like fuels and the explicit point of the 3rd wave is that any carbohydrate source can be used. Infrastructure is more convenient with starch, but wood and other cellulosic materials (polysaccharides) can be broken down to monosaccharides just like starch, and subsequently converted into high value chemicals.

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louw0013May. 4, 09 8:35 PM

No one will pay for an inferior product performance-wise with higher prices. It doesn't happen. However, what if the performance is equal and the price is competitive for green chemicals? I don't think it's a bad thing for MN to export products. There's a regulatory push in Europe to remove phthalates as plasticizers, which is generally 20-30% of vinyl products. Companies will prosper or die based on performance and/or price. Create your own market or compete in existing markets. PHAs and PLA are inferior to polycarbonate and PET, but they have their applications. That isn't the premise of these start ups. Since you haven't seen or worked with these products, it isn't possible and America needs to wake up? Synthetic chemistry from renewable resources is the third wave and point of this article. You're quite capable of realizing the functionality of molecules is of the utmost importance in monomers, additives, adhesives, and polyols. The trillion dollar market for these applications is there to fight for. Price will become competitive as infrastructure capital is spent. How much money did the petroleum industry spend on refineries, pipelines, barges, tankers, etc over the past 70 years?

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frag999May. 4, 09 9:51 PM

when you mentioned a few things: 1. what if the performance is equal and the price is competitive - now we are talking, but will it ever be competitive if there is no regulatory intervention like the example you gave for plasticizers in Europe? I doubt it. If you want to pay more for products preferentially because they are made with green raw materials then good for you. I would like to have that liberty as well. I personally consider greenies (your organic food buyers, your low carbon footprint types, and your green product purchasers) to all be followers of a new age religion. A religion that pushes our government to take away the liberty of all us non(green)-believers. Buy your green products including energy and feel good about yourself. Don't push for legislation that will force us to pay an extra $3000 per year per household for low-carbon energy, for example!

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