Sustainable Energy

Bean there? Could soy and canola save the planet?

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Could canola save the planet?
Could canola save the planet?

The global chemical industry is vast, and has an environmental impact to match. According to a 2013 report by International Energy Agency, the chemical and petrochemical sector accounts for approximately seven percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

One Illinois-based company is working to change an industry which has traditionally relied on oil-based products.

Elevance Renewable Sciences have developed technology and a process that they say enables them to "successfully bridge the renewables and chemicals industries, transforming natural plant-based oils… into speciality high-performance, cost-effective commercial products."

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These plant based oils include soybean, canola and palm. From these, everything from cosmetics to candles, detergents and solvents can be produced.

"In the process we use a Nobel-winning technology, a catalyst, that actually changes or breaks apart natural oils into new fragments that industry can use," Mel Luetkens, COO of Elevance, told CNBC's Sustainable Energy.

"The process then takes those fragments and separates them into different product groups according to industry needs, and then we [are] actually… able to ship those products out," he added.

Elevance's process also fares well in terms of its environmental impact. "The unique benefit of this process is it runs at low temperature and pressure relative to other petrochemical processes," Luetkens said. "As a result we have an improved sustainability footprint," he added.

In Indonesia, working with local company Wilmar International Limited, Elevance has set up a biorefinery.

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The plant has the capacity to produce 400 million pounds of products, with the potential to expand and eventually produce 800 million. The company claims that the processes used in its biorefinery consume less energy and can cut greenhouse gas emissions by half.

"Our materials can be sourced locally and so we can take advantage of the technology within Indonesia enabling Elevance and our customers to reduce the carbon footprint here and also elsewhere," Luetkens said.