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Policy Support Identified as Key to Motivate Bioethylene in US

Researchers from Vienna University of Economics and Business compared four scenarios for meeting future ethylene supply

Ethylene is a hydrocarbon and a colorless flammable gas that is widely used in the chemical industry. Increasing concerns regarding global warming and climate change is promoting use of renewable energy and materials instead of fossil fuels. Manufacturing of bioethylene via dehydration of bioethanol is an alternative to the fossil‐based ethylene production and decreases the environmental concerns for this chemical product. According to European Bioplastics Organization, the global bioplastics production capacity is set to increase from around 2.05 million tons in 2017 to approximately 2.44 million tons in 2022.

Ethylene is economically important in the U.S. and worldwide. According to American Chemistry Council, 2018, the value of U.S. chemical shipments in 2017 was US$ 526 billion dollars, an increase of US$ 23 billion over 2016. Now, a team of researchers from Vienna University of Economics and Business assessed four possible futures for ethylene in the U.S. The new scenarios developed assess the viability of transitioning away from fossil fuels to a bioeconomy future for ethylene production in the U.S. from the perspective of sustainable biomass availability and greenhouse gas emissions. The four scenarios use four perspectives: (1) a sustainability-focused pathway that demands a swift transition to a bioeconomy within 30 years; (2) a regional energy-focused pathway that supports broad biomass use; (3) a fossil-fuel development pathway limited to corn grain; and (4) a fossil-fuel development pathway limited to corn grain and corn stover.

The team found that the major factor to promote bioethylene in the U.S. is policy support. Moreover, planting and utilizing woody and herbaceous energy crops also requires policy support. According to the author of the research Gillian Foster, the history of corn grain-based ethanol as a gasoline additive is a testament to the success of programs that support bioproduct manufacturers and programs that expand opportunities for bioproducts to reach consumers. The cost of ethanol production has reduced due to government policy support. The results conclude that low-carbon futures with substantial bioethylene production in the U.S. are possible within biophysical limits. The research was published in the journal MDPI Energies on May 22, 2019.

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