Last week, we asked the readers to participate in our 30 Hottest Molecules survey, which you can take here (and the supplementary Survey, which you can see here) if you haven’t yet completed. Thank you to the hundreds of readers who took time to consider the nominees.
We were astonished by the range of suggestions for additional molecules that, in your view, represented a “major opportunity” or of “some value now, more later” or “Real value now”. In all, we added 39 more nominees to our list for the Supplementary Survey.
We’ll announce “the winning molecules” on Friday. Each winning molecule will be awarded a Commemorative Championship Aromatic Ring, in a microscopic award ceremony. But we have plenty of response now from readers from which to draw some observations.
The 30 Hottest Molecules, so far — ranked as “major opportunity now”
No major surprise — you like the C6 sugars that are the basis for standard fermentations — and a range of products from fuels (e.g. ethanol, isobutanol) all the way to a range of well-known and obscure renewable chemicals. It’s worth noting that C5 sugars — those found in cellulose — are down in the #18 position with 17% rating them as a “major opportunity now”. Probably too many questions about process viability, to date.
Most of the top 10 seen as major opportunities are of little surprise. Omega-3s – both EPA and DHA, seen in almost every algae business plan these days. And the classic perennial, ethanol. Plastics sources like lactic acid and PHA were right there in the Top 3. And some Green ‘Enes — ethene (#5) and isoprene (#7), with limonene knocking on the door at #11.
In the Top 20, renewable jet fuel, for which there is a strong market demand. Also, among chemicals used in renewable plastics packaging technology, there are three here. PET, PEF and PLA.
Note: We find ourselves a little stunned that the components of PET, therefore, are themselves way, way down the list, with MEG at #42 and BTX molecules as a group (which included paraxylene) at #69. We’re not quite sure if paraxylene would have pooled so far down the list if it had been listed separately.
Succinic acid has been much in the news, not the least of which has been BioAmber’s path to scale. Not to mention Succinity among several others, and Myriant if anyone can find that technology buried somewhere in the PTT vault. So, we’re encouraged to see readers recognizing that organic acid opportunity. Of all the surprises, perhaps renewable hydrogen (#12) is the one that will stand out as a bit of a shocker for most people. Not too many companies working on that.
Elsewhere in the Top 30 (so far), we find some surprises, like 2,5 furan dicaboxylic acid and carbon monoxide. We found ourselves slightly surprised that both n-butanol and isobutanol found themselves outside the Top 10, though both are safely nested in the Top 30. Biodiesel, down at #28, was a shockingly low result for America’s favorite advanced biofuel, but renewable diesel ranked in better position at #20 We were not surprised to see BDO make the list, though with DuPont’s success in PDO we might have expected that PDO would do better than #47. One big surprise – estolides, which are not widely known at all, but clocked in at #25. And ethylene, which we would have thought that fossil natgas took care of, found itself at #13.
Shocker omissions? With glucaric acid and DDDA heading for scale at Rivertop and Verdezyne, we thought those were shocker rankings at #37 and #42. The low ratings for a number of organic acids was a surprise in these low oil price days where oxygenate molecules have that oxygen advantage of biomass. With all the noise around butadiene these days, how did that comes up at #41.
We found ourselves surprised that so many sugar alcohols outranked the organic acids — only adipic, polylactic, acrylic, succinic and levulinic bucked the trend. With Amyris working so hard on farnesene, how did that find itself all the way down at #57? And how did methanol find itself out of the top 50 when methane checked in at #21?
In general, drop-ins were doing very well.
The 30 Hottest Molecules, so far — ranked as “real value now, maybe more later”
Looking at a slightly lowered level of enthusiasm — “real value” rather than “major opportunity”, but focused on “now” rather than later — It’s organic acid heaven, here. Lactic acid at #1 and PLA at #4. And look at succinic acid all the way up at #2! Plus, the Omega-3s found even more support – and even Omega-7s crept up to #18.
Molecules making the top 10 for “real value now” that missed on “major opportunity”? That would be BDO, C5 sugars and polyamides. Missing out here but in the Top 10 for “major opportunity? That would be HMD (checking in at #12).
In this sortation of the list, we saw molecules making the top 30 for “real value” that were on our “shocker omission” lost for “major opportunity” — such as organic acids oleic acid and citric acid.
Shocker omissions? Boy, glucaric acid just gets no respect, mired down at #75, and BTX molecules are lost at #63 — with companies like Gevo, Virent, Anellotech and Rivertop working hard on these, those are tough to understand. We sure like the terpenes, and they find themselves on the outside looking in. And, look at that drop for 2,5 furan dicaboxylic acid – down from #23 in “major opportunity” all the way to #58 here. And there’s an Estolide slide – all the way from #25 to #92.
The 30 Hottest Molecules, so far — ranked as “some appeal now, maybe more later”
Looking at a minimal level of enthusiasm — we’ve ranked those who checked off (at least) “some appeal now, maybe more later”. So, this includes all the higher ratings like “real value now” and “major opportunity”.
Here, we find molecule groups dominating. Organic acids placed 9 in the top 30 — lactic, succinic, acrylic, polylactic, acetic, levulinic, citric, oleic, and adipic. Specifically, the sugars (C5s and C6s) are rocking, plus renewable diesel and jet fuel. We had mentioned the slightly lower than expected ratings for isobutanol and n-butanol above; here, they are both in the top 8, indicating that readers see them as longer term propositions. Again, we see strong support for Omega-3s, and polyamides.
Shocker omissions? Once again, glucaric acid just gets no respect, down at #69, and paraxylene is ranked at #62 for no reason that makes sense. Also, We sure like the terpenes, and they find themselves on the outside looking in. And, look at that drop for 2,5 furan dicaboxylic acid – down from #16 in “major opportunity” all the way to #68 here. Clearly the molecule is not widely known but has its strong fans. DDDA drops here to #48 despite clear commercial scale-up imminent in Malaysia, and we’re not quite sure why ethanol dropped from #8 in “major opportunity” to #37 here – we suspect that is disdain for controversial feedstocks or novel molecules as a whole (vs drop-ins).
One that we saw steadily climbing was butadiene – #41 as “major opportunity” but #18 here. Levulinic climbed from #58 to #19 here. Indications of long-term value. Conversely, hydrogen fades, dropping from #12 in “major opportunity” to #17 here.
Packaging molecules didn’t do as well here, PLA checking in at #15, PET at #24 and PEF at #39.
The Bottom Line
We’ll be revisiting this list later this week when we have ratings from readers on 39 new molecules. For now, we see a couple of preliminary trends:
1. Generally, niche markets rule. Molecules like organic acids, and the omega-3s did consistently well.
2. Drop-ins are doing better than novel molecules, with few exceptions.
3. Some molecules like ethanol, biodiesel, BTX and glucaric acid have a smaller fan base than we would have expected.
4. Overall, the C2 and C4s are doing a little better, with 11 candidates between them in the Top 30 for “major opportunity”. The odd numbers (C1, C3 and C5) less strong. Lots of opportunity seen in the C7+ range, however,
This articles was originally posted at: http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2016/01/04/the-30-hottest-molecules-of-2016-sneak-preview/ on