Around 25 years ago a major paradigm shift took place within the chemicals industry and in the expectations of an increasingly discerning public. A radical concept of life with less toxins and the need to protect the environment caught fire, ushering in an era of all things green. Then it was revolutionary. Today, the green industry, particularly green chemicals is mainstream, raking in $11 billion in 2015 from a global consumer audience. In North America alone, the green chemicals industry is slated to grow from 2015 revenues of $3 billion to $20 billion by the year 2020.
To develop chemical products whose source was still in fossil fuels seemed to somewhat defeat the entire purpose of the mission. Firstly, fossil fuel extraction is expensive and the end product contributes more to the degradation of the planet rather than lessening it. However petroleum-based products had always been used to manufacture chemicals. Scientists had to develop an alternative. Rather than relying on fossil fuels, they turned to producing chemicals in the laboratory, using microorganisms to break down biomass, such as waste product from crops and food. Elevance and BioAmber have already commercialized this process and it is only a matter of time before chemicals from the ground will be a thing of the past.
Virtually every global government has turned its attention to climate change, recognizing that a drastic response is needed immediately to mitigate irreversible consequences. In spite of all the attention and innovations, we are still producing too much carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases. But chemical companies like Newlight and Novomer are taking the dirty—greenhouse gases—to make clean products, such as plastics, paints and diapers.