What is Feedstock?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Feedstock is raw material necessary for an industrial process. Examples can include minerals, organic material, crude oil, metals, and timber. Humans have been utilizing raw materials of all sorts for centuries and new uses are constantly being developed around the world. Costs vary, depending on rising and falling demand; prices can climb high when a particular product is acutely needed and may drop as interest wanes.

Crude oil is one example of a feedstock.
Crude oil is one example of a feedstock.

Other factors influencing the cost of a feedstock can include scarcity and ease of collection. Rare metals, needed as a base for the manufacture of electronics, tend to be hard to obtain and are often very expensive as a result. Feedstock like grains is generally easy to grow, harvest, and transport, keeping prices relatively low. All of these costs are passed on to the end consumer, and the prices of finished industrial products can fluctuate in response to changing prices for raw materials.

Crude oil is a raw material that can be used to produce a vast number of other products.
Crude oil is a raw material that can be used to produce a vast number of other products.

The amount of processing needed to make feedstock usable varies and several steps may be involved. With something like iron ore, the ore first needs to be processed to remove impurities, and is then turned into ingots and bars for easy handling. These in turn can be melted, alloyed with other metals, and handled in a variety of ways to generate products made with iron. Manipulating the process can result in products of varying quality, with different strengths and weaknesses; raw materials like crude oil can be used to produce a huge array of products.

Control of feedstock supplies is critical. Many industrial processes rely on a steady supply. Interruptions can force a slowdown or stop of the entire manufacturing process, potentially leading to a ripple effect with delays. Many companies specialize in extracting, storing, and shipping feedstock materials, relying on a variety of logistics tactics to make sure they will always have enough available for their customers. Rapid shipping methods have greatly increased availability of many once-rare feedstock supplies.

Trends in manufacturing can lead to sudden spikes in demand for some materials, sometimes leading to shortages. The rise of biofuels, for example, caused an increased demand for grains, causing the price of all kinds of products made with grain to rise as feedstock became more expensive. In some cases, it was difficult to get grains to make certain kinds of products, such as tortillas, and populations experienced shortages of needed food supplies until the agricultural industry could adjust production and output to meet the demand.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@MrMoody - Look, we’re using oil as feed stock and I believe that we should continue using it. I am not one of those people who demonize “Big Oil.”

But I also believe that we should explore alternative energy sources. Biomass energy is a great alternative. There are tons of possible feed stocks we can use.

Algae is certainly one example, but scientists are also looking into industrial waste as well. Think about that. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could transform waste products into energy? Now that’s what I call making lemonade out of lemons.


@MrMoody - Some biofuels are working quite well, if only in limited quantities. Biodiesel feedstock is one example. It’s added to diesel fuel in some places. I don’t know how much is added; it’s obviously a small amount, but I think it has helped prices, not hurt them.

Personally I think that biofuels do hold a lot of promise, but you have to pick what you’re going to use. Scientists are touting green algae as an example.

We certainly don’t need it for consumption, and there are places where algae is in abundance. So I think that this is one possibility worth pursuing.


Biofuel production is a big mistake in my opinion. What sense does it make to use food for fuel, and thereby deprive humans of food – or force them to pay higher prices for it? Corn is for human consumption, not transportation.

I have yet to see a biofuel example where it wasn’t more expensive than the alternative petroleum based fuel. In my opinion we need to dig for more oil and natural gas.

The thing that’s preventing us from doing that is environmental regulation, not an absence of supply.

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