Structure of Cellulose

Advantages

  • Cellulose contains the basic C-C chains required to manufacture petrochemicals
  • Unlike fossil fuels, cellulose is a readily available raw material and the major constituent of biomass (material made entirely or in large part by living organisms), making it a renewable resource.
  • Cellulose can be broken down by glucose by acid digestion or through cellulase enzymes, once broken, glucose can be fermented to form ethanol, which is an industrially important solvent, as well as being a useful fuel extender in vehicles.
  • Cellulose is biodegradable and can be used to develop biopolymers such as rayon, cellophane and cellulose acetate.
  • Ethanol can be further reacted in a dehydration reaction to form ethylene, which is an industrially significant monomer used to manufacture many petrochemicals.
  • Ethylene can then be used to form polyethylene or other important monomers such as vinyl chloride and styrene.
  • It is the formation of ethanol and ethylene from cellulose that gives it the potential as a raw material in the production of petrochemicals.

Disadvantages

  • Breaking cellulose by acid digestion or through cellulose enzymes are both time consuming and expensive as it has strong $\beta$-1,4-glycosidic bonds which are difficult to break.
  • This process also requires a lot of energy most likely provided by fossil fuels, meaning that this process could in fact require more non-renewable resources than before.
  • Cellulose based biopolymers are relatively costly and are not widely applied.
  • Loss of arable land, If large areas of land were devoted to the growth of biomass for petrochemicals this would also cause environmental problems such as erosion and deforestation.
  • although food crops are readily available, their use would be unethical as many people do not have access to sufficient food reserves.
  • Biomass is difficult to transport and has its own storage problems.

Conclusion

In the future it is hoped that waste such as crop waste, saw dust, wood chips and sewerage can be used rather than crops. Cellulose has enormous potential as a raw material for the production of petrochemicals but is currently still infeasible as it is too expensive and time consuming. However with diminishing fossil fuel reserves, cellulose may become a commercially significant raw material of the future.