Money sure doesn’t grow on trees, but the day isn’t far when gasoline, computers, and tennis shoes might actually grow on trees all thanks to new advances in biotechnology that could allow manufacturers to produce fuel, plastics, and other chemicals from plants instead of petroleum.
C&EN senior business editor Melody Voith says today’s plant-based fuels and plastics involve growing crops and then using physical and chemical means to extract sugars that manufacturers transform into the desired product.
However, a large number of plant biotechnology companies are trying to make plants do more of the manufacturing work. For example, several firms are trying to develop specially engineered plants, such as switch grass and corn, that make it easier and faster to produce biofuels.
The development could potentially lower the cost of renewable fuels, says Voith. But producing chemical factories from plants will involve challenges. Farmers will need to gamble on new, risky crops planted over large areas. It is also unclear how processors will collect and efficiently transport these plant products.
Research and development of new plant traits is moving at a brisk pace in several biotech labs, says Voith. ANI