Pruning the cost of bio-based materials and chemicals

The bio-based materials and chemicals industry needs to tap newer, non-food sources of biomass and cellulosic material and raise volumes of feedstock before it can emerge as an economically viable alternative to petroleum-based products, according to a Lux Research report. Currently, high cost of capital and operations limit bio-based materials and chemicals to a few facilities located where corn and cane are plentiful and cheap.

“Bio-based materials and chemicals manufacturers need syngas and sugar to fuel their growth. Gasification and enzymatic hydrolysis are key technologies for securing vast amounts,” said Mark Bünger, Research Director and the lead author of the report titled, “Pruning the Cost of Bio-Based Materials and Chemicals.”

Lux Research analysts studied cost drivers in gasification, enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulosics and algae cultivation to find opportunities where new technologies can turn them to profit. Among their findings:

  • Algae remains a cost-intensive loser.  In Lux Research’s model, algae cultivation yields a 48% loss, calling into question its long-term prospects. The problem lies in the high capital costs for growing algae at industrial scale, which amount to $202,000 per hectare.
  • Syngas fermentation has great new product potential. The many products of syngas fermentation proven at lab scale or larger include ethanol, butanol, acetic acid, butyric acid, 2,3-butanediol and methane. Leading startups in this domain include ZeaChem, which is collaborating with Procter & Gamble, and LanzaTech.
  • There’s hope for cellulosic biomass, but costs need to fall. Enzymatic hydrolysis is being commercialized at new facilities like GraalBio’s plant in Brazil, using the latest enzymes from Novozymes and DSM. However, many parts of the process need to improve, including harvesting and/or collecting biomass, which adds $15 per ton, or $0.21 per gallon, in costs.

The report, titled “Pruning the Cost of Bio-Based Materials and Chemicals,” is part of the Lux Research Bio-Based Materials and Chemicals Intelligence service.

About Lux Research

Lux Research provides strategic advice and on-going intelligence for emerging technologies. Leaders in business, finance and government rely on us to help them make informed strategic decisions. Through our unique research approach focused on primary research and our extensive global network, we deliver insight, connections and competitive advantage to our clients. Visit for more information.

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