Since last century, the supply of raw materials for the chemical industry has undergone a radical change. Whereas at the beginning of the nineteenth century the demand for basic chemicals was satisfied entirely by renewable raw materials, from about 1850 the chemical industry came to rely increasingly upon coal. In the 1940's, mineral oil started to become increasingly important, and during the past thirty years it has remained by far as the most important source of raw materials. Renewable raw materials are likely to become important again in the future, as the choice of raw materials is now of great significance not only for economic reasons by influencing competitiveness, but also because this choice largely determines the properties of the derivatives produced and their ecological effects. Following the two oil crises of the 1970's, there is also now a growing awareness of the limits of raw material resources, and against the continuing background of agricultural surpluses, chemists are again showing an increasing interest in renewable raw materials. Since the end of the seventies, the Bundesministerium für Forschung und Technologie (Ministry of Research and Technology of the Federal Republic of Germany) has supported research projects on renewable raw materials in universities and in industry. For the chemical industry the use of natural products as raw materials opens up a wider spectrum of synthetic methods and finished products, some of which are not accessible by petrochemical routes.
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