🏭 The chicken or the egg
Origin's carbon-negative carbon black and Dow's gas sweeting plans
Good morning. Since today's edition will be the last for the next couple of weeks, you can expect a super long "more headlines" section when The Column returns. Also—the first monthly summary will be sent out on Friday, September 2nd!
From the condenser:
· Origin's carbon-negative carbon black
· Dow's gas sweeting plans
· MOTD: benzaldehyde
Origin's carbon black is getting pre-orders
Catching you up:
Origin's core technology is a process that converts cellulosic biomass into various bio-based (and carbon-negative) molecules. Their crown jewel is definitely chloromethyl furfural (it can be used to make all sorts of things—like PET, PEF, and various other polyesters, polyurethanes, and polyamides), but the process also makes furfural, levulinic acid, and hydrothermal carbon (HTC).
So... carbon black?
Remember, TSNT—Tesla's Still Need Tires, and all tires are black because petroleum-based carbon black is used to reinforce the rubber tires are made of. Conquering that single application with a sustainable alternative is a foot in the door to 70% of the $26 billion market. That's why Origin had been working with Mitsubishi Chemical to make carbon black using HTC, and why these new off-take agreements are meaningful. Plus, these agreements are broader than tires. ATC Plastics is going to try to get that carbon black into plastics and for Interex to get it into other things like belts, hoses, and rubber seals.
Chemical processes pretty much always come with by-products (shoutout to selectivity). When those by-products are marketable, the chemical manufacturer renames them "co-products". The problem we see most often is that product and co-product markets rarely grow at a rate proportional to the ratio that they are produced. That doesn't matter when your products are displacing existing demand.
Dow is gonna sweeten gas in Saudi
Setting the scene:
People tend to refer to crude oil and gas in terms of their "sweetness". "Sweet" reserves have low amounts of sulfur in them, and "sour" reserves have high amounts of sulfur in them. Pretty much all of the world's sweet stuff comes from Texas and the North Sea, and all of the other stuff requires some extra sulfur removal. You don't want that sulfur in there for lots of reasons, but mostly because it reduces the efficiency of the fuels, it's corrosive, and it's poisonous.
MDEA is primarily used to remove sulfur and CO2 from natural gas, and it's made by reacting methylamine with ethylene oxide. Methylamine is made by reacting ammonia and methanol (both are made from natural gas), and ethylene oxide is made by oxidizing ethylene (which can also trace its roots to natural gas). Basically, Dow is making chemicals from natural gas to make natural gas usable (it's a sort of chicken or the egg situation).
Throughout the entire 20th century, all of Saudi Arabia's natural gas was associated with its crude oil production (meaning that natural gas came with the crude oil, they weren't drilling for natural gas alone). That has changed over the last two decades—now roughly half of their natural gas production isn't associated with crude oil production. All of this region's natural gas is super sour, so the demand for MDEA in the region has also drastically increased.
Some more headlines:
Ineos is now selling bio-based ethylene oxide via the mass balance approach
BASF and other European chemical companies will likely scale back their ammonia production
Milliken announced a production expansion in Germany
Evonik is increasing the price of DL-methionine for its Latin American customers
Trinseo hit pause on the sale of its styrenics business due to economic uncertainty
Product of The Day:
Today's MOTD might be more important than you expect, it's benzaldehyde.
First extracted from bitter almonds by a French pharmacist in 1803, this simple aromatic aldehyde can be used for much more than the key flavoring agent in imitation almond extracts. You'll even find a microgram or two of it in each JUUL pod.
The world produces somewhere around 100,000 tons of benzaldehyde each year. Nearly all of that is derived from the oil and gas industry (let's call it about 97%) by the chlorination or oxidation of toluene (which you'll find plenty of at a refinery).
A big chunk of that benzaldehyde (51% is used to produce benzoic acid, with sodium benzoate, cinnamic acid, and benzyl alcohol taking up the rest of the cake. Most of those derivatives find their way into dyes, perfumes, cosmetics, and in the food and beverage industry.
In case you're interested:
Book: Maybe you've never heard of the Scientific Design company, but if you're in the industry, this one is worth a read.*
Tip: Investing isn't limited to real estate and securities—check out Alts to learn more about unique investment ideas.*
Company History: Ever wondered where all of these big oil companies came from? Read about how Rockefeller's company gave birth to them all.
Safety Moment: Read this article to learn how improving the ergonomics in a chemical plant can improve the safety in the workplace.
All views represent those of the author not their employer.