Wax production from renewable feedstock using biocatalysts instead of fossil feedstock and conventional methods
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article
Background, aim, and scope Using renewable feedstock and introducing biocatalysts in the chemical industry have been suggested as the key strategies to reduce the environmental impact of chemicals. The Swedish interdisciplinary research program "Speciality Chemicals from Renewable Resources-Greenchem" is aiming to develop these strategies. One target group of chemicals for Greenchem are wax esters which can be used in wood coatings to replace paraffin wax made from fossil crude oil. The aim of this study was to conduct a life cycle assessment of wax esters based on rapeseed oil produced by biocatalysts (enzymes). The scope was to compare the environmental performance of wax esters with paraffin wax produced by conventional methods. Materials and methods The study has a cradle-to-gate perspective and the functional unit is "1-kg wax product ready to use in a wood coating product." Extensive data collection and calculations have been performed for the wax esters, whereas existing life cycle inventory data have been used for the paraffin wax. Results The energy input into the wax ester production is about one third of the energy input in paraffin wax production. However, the wax ester has a higher contribution to the global warming potential (GWP) due to high emissions of nitrous oxide from rapeseed cultivation. Referring to a cradle-to-grave perspective, including waste incineration, the contribution to the GWP will, however, be 3.5 times higher from paraffin wax. Wax ester makes a higher contribution to the acidification and eutrophication potential, due to emissions from soil from rapeseed cultivation, but five times lower contribution to the photochemical ozone creation potential. From a land-use perspective and a global warming point of view, it is more efficient to produce paraffin wax and grow high-yielding, short-rotation coppice (Salix) to replace fuel oil than it is to grow rapeseed for wax ester production. Discussion Overall, this study shows the importance of studying the environmental performance of a product not only from a gate-to-gate perspective but, instead, considering the environmental performance from cradle-to-gate. The biocatalytic production of the wax ester consumes less energy than the conventional chemical method, but the raw material step, cultivation of rapeseed contributes much to both acidification and eutrophication. When the waste treatment step is included, the contribution to GWP, however, for paraffin wax will be 3.5 times higher than for the wax ester. Conclusions From a gate-to-gate perspective, replacing conventional chemical processes by biocatalysts using enzymes leads to energy savings and reduces emissions. However, from a cradle-to-gate perspective, the use of renewable feedstock, such as rapeseed oil, may counteract some of these benefits. Concerning the GWP benefit from using renewable feedstock instead of fossil feedstock, the final waste treatment step must be included, thereby applying a cradle-to-grave perspective. Recommendations and perspectives The introduction of biocatalysts as a key strategy in reducing the environmental impact from the chemical industry is supported by the results in this study. On the other hand, it is not obvious that the key strategy of using renewable feedstock in chemical production per se leads to benefits concerning all environmental impact categories. Thus, much more attention needs to be paid to the choice of potential renewable feedstock options, the minimization of energy inputs, and the biological emissions from the soil in the cultivation of feedstock crops, improved gas cleaning in nitrogen fertilizer production plants, and the alternative use of the arable land, in optimizing the overall environmental benefits of an increased use of renewable feedstock in the chemical industry.
|Research areas and keywords||
Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY
|Journal||International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment|
|Publication status||Published - 2008|