Bio-Based Chemicals and Solvents

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Bio-based chemicals and solvents are a pivotal element in the transition to a sustainable chemical industry. They represent a departure from traditional petrochemical reliance by utilizing renewable biomass sources, such as agricultural residues, forestry byproducts, algae, and other organic materials, as feedstocks for producing chemicals and solvents. This approach aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, minimize reliance on fossil fuels, and create a more circular and sustainable economy.

Impact on climate action

Bio-Based Chemicals and Solvents offer a pivotal shift in climate action by reducing reliance on fossil fuels, cutting emissions, and minimizing environmental harm. Their production consumes less energy and emits fewer greenhouse gases, fostering a sustainable ecosystem and accelerating the transition towards a low-carbon economy.


  • Biomass Conversion: The core technology involves transforming various forms of biomass into usable chemicals and solvents. This is achieved through multiple processes:
    • Fermentation: Microorganisms are employed to break down biomass into simpler compounds, including alcohols, organic acids, and bio-based platform chemicals.
    • Chemical Catalysis: Bio-based feedstocks are chemically transformed into desired products through catalytic processes.
    • Extraction and Purification: Specific chemicals and solvents are extracted directly from biomass sources and purified to meet industry standards.
  • Green Chemistry Principles: Bio-based chemical production often adheres to green chemistry principles, which emphasize minimizing waste, using safer solvents and reagents, and designing processes with reduced environmental impact.
  • Metabolic Engineering and Synthetic Biology: These fields play a crucial role in optimizing microbial strains for more efficient fermentation processes and even engineering microbes to produce entirely new bio-based chemicals.

TRL : 7-9 (depending on the specific chemical and application)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Platform Chemicals from Biomass: Research focuses on producing key platform chemicals from biomass, such as levulinic acid, succinic acid, and lactic acid. These platform chemicals serve as building blocks for producing a wide range of other chemicals and materials.
  • Drop-in Bio-Based Chemicals: Innovations involve developing bio-based chemicals that are chemically identical to their petrochemical counterparts, enabling their seamless integration into existing applications and manufacturing processes.
  • Novel Bio-Based Chemicals: Scientists are exploring the potential of biomass to produce entirely new chemicals with unique properties and functionalities not found in conventional chemicals.
  • Sustainable Solvents: Efforts are underway to develop bio-based solvents that offer lower toxicity, better biodegradability, and reduced environmental impact compared to traditional solvents.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Advanced Biomass Conversion Techniques
  • Fermentation Innovation for Bio-Based Chemicals
  • Catalytic Processes in Bio-Based Production
  • Green Extraction Methods
  • Innovative Purification Technologies
  • Metabolic Engineering for Bio-Based Chemicals
  • Synthetic Biology Applications
  • Eco-Friendly Solvents
  • Novel Bio-Based Platform Chemicals
  • Drop-In Bio-Based Solutions
  • Bio-Based Detergents and Cleaners
  • Bio-Based Personal Care Products
  • Bio-Based Cosmetics
  • Bio-Based Pharmaceuticals
  • Renewable Bio-Based Resins

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  1. GFBiochemicals:
    • Technology Enhancement: GFBiochemicals specializes in producing levulinic acid, a bio-based chemical with applications in various industries such as pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, and personal care products. They utilize a proprietary production process that converts biomass into levulinic acid at scale.
    • Uniqueness: GFBiochemicals is unique in its focus on levulinic acid as a key building block for bio-based chemicals, offering a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based products.
    • End-User Segments Addressed: GFBiochemicals serves industries requiring bio-based chemicals, including pharmaceuticals, agriculture, cosmetics, and specialty chemicals.
  2. MycoWorks:
    • Technology Enhancement: MycoWorks develops and manufactures bio-based materials using mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms. They have developed a patented process for growing mycelium into durable and versatile materials suitable for applications such as leather alternatives and packaging.
    • Uniqueness: MycoWorks stands out for its innovative use of mycelium to create sustainable alternatives to traditional materials like leather. Their process offers a biodegradable and environmentally friendly solution.
    • End-User Segments Addressed: MycoWorks targets industries seeking sustainable materials, including fashion, accessories, furniture, and packaging.
  3. Solugen:
    • Technology Enhancement: Solugen specializes in producing bio-based hydrogen peroxide and related chemicals using a novel enzymatic process. They utilize plant-based feedstocks to produce high-quality chemicals with minimal environmental impact.
    • Uniqueness: Solugen’s enzymatic process for producing hydrogen peroxide offers a more sustainable alternative to traditional methods, which often rely on hazardous chemicals and energy-intensive processes.
    • End-User Segments Addressed: Solugen serves industries requiring hydrogen peroxide and related chemicals, including water treatment, pulp and paper, textiles, and personal care products.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  1. University of California, Berkeley:
    • Research Focus: UC Berkeley’s research in Bio-Based Chemicals and Solvents focuses on developing novel bio-based compounds and solvents derived from renewable resources such as biomass, agricultural waste, and microorganisms.
    • Uniqueness: UC Berkeley’s approach emphasizes the use of synthetic biology and metabolic engineering techniques to design and optimize microbial strains for the production of target chemicals and solvents. Their research often explores unconventional feedstocks and fermentation processes to enhance sustainability and cost-effectiveness.
    • End-use Applications: The applications of UC Berkeley’s research span various industries, including pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and agriculture. For example, their bio-based solvents can replace traditional petroleum-based solvents in chemical synthesis, reducing environmental impact and improving product sustainability.
  2. Technical University of Denmark (DTU):
    • Research Focus: DTU’s research in Bio-Based Chemicals and Solvents centers on developing sustainable processes for the production of bio-based chemicals and solvents, with a focus on industrial-scale applications.
    • Uniqueness: DTU’s approach integrates chemical engineering principles with biotechnology and catalysis to design efficient and scalable processes for converting biomass into value-added chemicals and solvents. Their research often explores novel catalysts and reaction pathways to improve product yields and selectivity.
    • End-use Applications: DTU’s technology has applications in industries such as biorefining, biofuels, and renewable energy. Their bio-based chemicals and solvents can be used as green alternatives in a wide range of applications, including coatings, adhesives, and lubricants.
  3. RWTH Aachen University (Germany):
    • Research Focus: RWTH Aachen’s research in Bio-Based Chemicals and Solvents focuses on developing advanced biorefinery technologies for the production of high-value chemicals and solvents from renewable feedstocks.
    • Uniqueness: RWTH Aachen’s approach combines expertise in process engineering, chemistry, and biotechnology to optimize the entire value chain of bio-based chemicals production, from feedstock pretreatment to downstream processing. Their research often emphasizes techno-economic analysis and life cycle assessment to ensure the sustainability and competitiveness of their processes.
    • End-use Applications: RWTH Aachen’s research has applications in industries such as fine chemicals, polymers, and agrochemicals. Their bio-based chemicals and solvents offer environmentally friendly alternatives to petroleum-derived counterparts, contributing to the transition towards a bio-based economy.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Bio-based chemicals and solvents are gaining traction in the market, with various companies using these materials to create a wide range of products.

  • Bio-based packaging: Bioplastics derived from plant sources are replacing traditional plastic packaging in various food and consumer goods applications.
  • Bio-based detergents and cleaners: Sustainable solvents and surfactants derived from biomass are finding their way into cleaning products, offering a greener alternative to traditional chemical formulations.
  • Bio-based cosmetics and personal care products: Bio-based ingredients and chemicals are being increasingly used in cosmetics and personal care products, appealing to consumers seeking natural and sustainable options.