Xylochemistry - the use of wood as a source of raw materials for chemical synthesis - provides a climate-neutral alternative to the conventional use of fossil carbon sources such as natural gas or oil.
Xylochemistry and specifically the STANCE Consortium is developing an economically and environmentally sustainable technological path from wood to commodity chemicals, materials, pharmaceuticals, and fuels.
In the early days of organic chemistry natural substances such as ethanol or bitter almond oil (benzaldehyde) were the only organic chemical substances available with relative purity. In the 19th century the initially worthless waste product, coal tar, became an important source of important basic chemicals such as aniline or naphthalene. This development formed the basis of tar-chemistry that soon provided light-fast dyes and synthetic pharmaceuticals. Only in the course of the 20th century was coal tar replaced by today's dominant commodity crude oil. Presently, most chemical value chains originate from this latter source. Only a small portion of the world's crude oil production is refined into complex chemical products, but this still represents a staple entry point for modern chemical synthesis. The use of fossil carbon sources, connected with the required recovery from underground deposits, however, leads to the steady increase in the carbon inventory in the atmosphere, which contributes significantly to global warming.
Conceptually, Xylochemistry is an approach to a sustainable chemical economy based on the use of wood as an alternative, and more practical carbon source. Presently, the global annual production of timber and oil are comparable. The yearly world-wide wood production is about 5 × 109 m3, while the global oil production is currently around 4 × 109 m3 per year. Xylochemistry is CO2-neutral and could, depending on the life of the products produced therefrom, even lead to a decrease in the atmospheric carbon inventory. Wood contains, as opposed to fossil resources, additional important functionalities such as hydroxyl or carboxyl groups, which can be used for the production of high-value products.
Wood is well-suited as a source of valuable basic chemicals and commodities utilized for the production of polymers or plastics, dyes, adhesives, pharmaceuticals, fuels and a host of other consumer goods. A conservative approach to resource utilization combined with the growth in the chemical sciences can provide a sustainable and economical xylochemical alternative to conventional petrochemistry.