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CAER Seminars

Role of renewable resources in chemistry with special focus on polymer systems for binders

Dr. Manfred Selig,
Wacker Chemical Corporation
Adrian, MI

Friday, August 21, 2009 10:00am
Ben Bandy Conference Center
Center for Applied Energy Research

The task of sustainably supplying 9 Billion people with food and substrates leaves neither room for ignoring the limited availability of fossils nor for 'green dreams' ignoring even basic scientific knowledge. While the race for sensible use of renewable energies and resources has been definitely sparked by the 2008 oil price hike the process of ongoing substitution will take decades if not centuries. And as in all fundamental innovation processes billions of $ will once again be wasted for 'innovative' processes that lack any sound scientific reasoning.

The 1st and especially the 2nd law of thermodynamics make up the 'aqua fortis' ultimately discriminating between pure gold and pure wishful thinking. Using this safe guidance of thermodynamics the uselessness of renewables for energy generation is demonstrated, their ambivalent role in fuel for mobility is discussed and their sustainable use in substrates for construction and/or chemical feedstock is derived.

Within the field of chemistry the role of oxygen content will lead to new polymer systems in direct material use slowly substituting the classic carbon rich polymer substrates like PE/PP/PS. While the same will happen for carbon rich binders such as SBR other classic polymer systems such as VAE (vinylacetate/ethylene) and acrylics will survive due to their balanced oxygene content. The phase out of polymers like SBR will in a first step be driven by rising oil prices to sustained levels beyond 70-80$/barrel. In a subsequent 2nd step the sourcing will then gradually change from fossils to renewables, but different from the use as polymer substrates there will be hardly new polymer systems in binders: This game of classic binders with renewable sourcing' will ultimately be won by the system with the highest possible oxygen content and the least and most efficient steps from biomass to pivot molecules such as ethanol, lauric acid or lactic acid. The validity of this hypothesis is then discussed using VAE as a model binder polymer.

The presentation closes with a brief look at the access to aromates and heteroatoms from renewables and its impact on the long-term competitive situation of these binder systems.