Why are synthetics expensive?

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Jan 29, 2006
In another thread there has been a discussion of biology-based hydrocarbons as lubricants. I have seen several attempts at Enviro-lubes that are currently commercially available. This stuff may or may not eventually make it in the market. However, biology can be engineered to make hydrocarbons - fairly efficiently. Is the cost of synthetics (especially esters) due to the cost of starting materials or the synthesis/purification of final products? My assumption is that the cost of starting materials has been an impediment in this field. Anyone know if my assumption is correct?
Technically, all oil, whether synthesized by polymerization from gas or conventional mineral oil distilled from crude petroleum, is based on biology. (really, really old plant and animal muck) If you're talking about ester synthesis using seed oils* as a starting point, there are efficient processes. Phillip Landis, who came out of retirement from Mobil where he was their director of R&D, started a company in Washington state, International Lubricants, Inc., who make the synthetic wax esters used in the company's various Lubegard products. I just did a search under all open forums using "enviro-lubes" as the key word. With my dial-up connection, that turned out to be a twenty-minute exercise in futility. Could you provide a link to the thread you referenced?

*peanut, jojoba, canola, rapeseed, cotton seed, etc.
Around here, conventional oils (dinos) are getting closer in price to synthetics. Name-brand dinos around here are roughly averaging $2 in most stores - while name-brand synthetics still remain at right around $5.
If starting material costs are a major impediment, then genetically engineered plants could play a significant role in reducing those costs. In theory, any biological hydrocarbon from one plant could be made in any other plant. Let's say some extra-slick, extra expensive hydrocarbon was known but could only be obtained from some exotic plant that is difficult to grow and produces low yields. The genes for the enzymatic pathway could be isolated and transfered to a crop that produces hydrocarbons efficiently. Below is a link to a paper describing one such effort. However, this effort is to simply make a pre-existing pathway a little more efficient. In this case, erucic acid production is increased by overexpression of a gene from a different species.

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