The run on fracking fluids has some bizarre side effects: Prices for guar gum, a gelling agent made from guar beans, have reached an all–time high. Now farmers in India have dedicated huge areas of arable land to the production of this fruit that is usually harvested for animal feed.
But, as prices skyrocketed by more than 1000 %, the industry began to look for synthetic alternatives: Surrogate agents like Permstim or Aquaperm were developed. Prices for guar beans have fallen since, leaving behind farmers with huge, useless acreage and high debts.
The Shale Boom Has Just Begun
And the boom has just begun: The fracking market is expected to grow by 10 % per year until 2020, Frost & Sullivan states. “An opportunity for chemical companies to come in with their well established R&D credentials and develop products that fit well into the hydro-fracturing market,” believes Frost & Sullivan analyst Michael Mbogoro.
A Chemical Romance
As crude oil is the dominant feedstock for chemicals, the shift to natural gas can bring dramatic changes: Products that are almost exclusively produced from crude, such as aromatics, are likely to be impacted. Analysts already predict the advent of bio-based alternatives to naphtha cracking, such as algae. Yet, other experts have set their sights on a true process dinosaur: A modified Fischer-Tropsch synthesis could be used to transfer syngas to long chain hydrocarbons for naphtha, kerosene, diesel or gasoline.
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