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BIOFUELS: Worried about competition, chemical makers jump into debate

Thursday, February 13, 2014  
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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter

Source:  Greenwire

Makers of chemicals used in adhesives, ink, paint, disinfectants and fragrances are jumping into the debate over biofuels.

The pine chemical industry, which uses a byproduct called crude tall oil from the paper-pulping process, says it's concerned that federal incentives will divert its major raw material into biofuel production. In a study this week, the Pine Chemicals Association Inc. and American Chemistry Council warned that greenhouse gas emissions will increase if producers are forced to turn to petroleum-based substitutes.

"The problem we have, the conflict with biofuels, is that they can actually take crude tall oil, like any other biomass [that] can't be burned directly, and convert it in a chemical process into a biofuel," said Charlie Morris, president and CEO of the Pine Chemicals Association. "That's fine for that industry. No problem -- except that they are getting incentives."

Making paper from evergreen trees yields two byproducts: turpentine and crude tall oil. The $3 billion pine chemicals industry has been around since the 1920s, converting that latter byproduct into a number of consumer products.

Recent research, though, has found crude tall oil to be a feasible raw material for green diesel. Renewable diesel, which can be used directly in existing fuel infrastructure, has historically been produced from soybean oil, animal fat or used cooking grease.

In 2012, European bioenergy company UPM Biofuels began building a biorefinery capable of producing renewable diesel from crude tall oil in southeastern Finland. UPM operates paper mills and is hopeful that it can make better use of the byproducts from the process.

"UPM aims to become a major player in the production of advanced biofuels," the company says.

According to the National Biodiesel Board, which represents both biodiesel and renewable diesel producers, no companies in the United States are currently exploring crude tall oil for biofuel production.

But the Pine Chemicals Association says it is worried that U.S. biofuel makers, spurred by the renewable fuel standard, will turn to crude tall oil as an input sooner or later.

If crude tall oil is diverted to biofuel production, the association says, its producers will be forced to turn to more carbon-intensive substitutes. A study released yesterday by the association and the American Chemistry Council and performed by Franklin Associates found that the pine chemical carbon footprint is about 50 percent smaller than those of the most likely mix of substitutes, such as hydrocarbon resins and heavy fuel oil, in the European Union.

The Pine Chemicals Association has mostly focused its efforts in the European Union. But it's also launched an advocacy effort in the United States on pine chemicals, focusing its efforts on statehouses in the Southeast, where most of the nation's crude tall oil is produced.

 "What's frustrating is we are a long-standing industry. We hire a lot of people," Morris said. "There's this whole surge with new bioeconomy -- we feel like we're the bioeconomy. We feel like we're pioneers of what we're trying to achieve with the bioeconomy."

About half of the world's crude tall oil, or about 800,000 tons, is produced in the United States. Crude tall oil-derived biofuel, though, has yet to gain federal approval for credit under the renewable fuel standard.

 

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