Low-Carbon Futures for Bioethylene in the United States

Gillian Joanne Foster

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


The manufacture of the chemical ethylene, a key ingredient in plastics, currently depends on fossil-fuel-derived carbon and generates significant greenhouse gas emissions. Substituting ethylene’s fossil fuel feedstock with alternatives is important for addressing the challenge of global climate change. This paper compares four scenarios for meeting future ethylene supply under differing societal approaches to climate change based on the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways. The four scenarios use four perspectives: (1) a sustainability-focused pathway that demands a swift transition to a bioeconomy within 30 years; (2) a regional energy-focused pathway that supports broad biomass use; (3) a fossil-fuel development pathway limited to corn grain; and (4) a fossil-fuel development pathway limited to corn grain and corn stover. Each scenario is developed using the latest scientifically informed future feedstock analyses from the 2016 Billion-Ton report interpreted with perspectives on the future of biomass from recent literature. The intent of this research is to examine how social, economic, and ecological changes determining ethylene supply fit within biophysical boundaries. This new approach to the ethylene feedstocks conundrum finds that phasing out fossil fuels as the main source of U.S. ethylene is possible if current cellulosic ethanol production expands.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1958
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 211908 Energy research
  • 201128 Sustainable building
  • 207106 Renewable energy
  • 401905 Renewable resources
  • 405004 Sustainable agriculture
  • 502022 Sustainable economics
  • 509 not use (legacy)
  • 105904 Environmental research

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