Shale gas, a possible threat to green chemistry?

We all know that ‘Big Oil’ is not fond of green chemistry and the green economy. But biobased chemists trust that crude oil prices will keep rising, dragging along natural gas prices on their way. This would advance the production and use of biobased chemical feedstock. They reckon that in twenty to thirty years’ time, a substantial part of chemical primary industry would have to be biobased, starting with drop-in biobased chemicals from ethanol and succinic acid.

But oil companies have another trick on their sleeve: chemical building blocks from shale gas. Recently, Shell announced in Dutch NRC Handelsblad that their shale gas resources are sufficiently large for a 250 year depletion period. As a consequence, they will be able to deliver chemical feedstock (ethylene) for a great number of years, and at low stable prices. This does not seem very sustainable and does not contribute to a circular economy, but then this is not their core business, which is to supply the world with fossil fuels. They have their way in the US. China is quite active as well, and some European policy makers quite seem to like the amount of shale gas under our continent. We will have to watch this closely, otherwise green chemistry might suffer an early death.

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