These are the best chemicals to make using plants instead of petroleum

Written by
Molly Seltzer, Office of Communications
Feb. 17, 2022

Biomass — plant matter — can be used in place of petroleum to produce many common chemicals, used in materials plastics to styrofoam. But which petroleum-based chemicals are most crucial to replace?

Now, research published in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering has ranked 25 of the most common chemicals produced from petroleum.

“This paper identifies the chemicals whose biomass-based production will be most beneficial from an environmental standpoint,” said Christos Maravelias, the principal investigator on the research and the Anderson Family Professor in Energy and the Environment at Princeton University.

The authors developed simulation and optimization models to calculate the amount of energy that would be needed to produce the chemicals from corn stover, the grainy stalks left over after corn is harvested. The team found that 24 out of the 25 products would have a lower environmental footprint if produced using biomass instead of the fossil fuel. According to the research, the production of such chemicals using biomass could reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 88% and 94%.

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