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Greener Horizons: Plastics May Grow On Trees

Wed, 06/09/2010 - 8:23am
EurekAlert

Money may not grow on trees, but gasoline, computers, and tennis shoes just might thanks to new biotech advances that could allow manufacturers to produce fuel, plastics, and other chemicals from plants instead of petroleum. That's the topic of an article in the current issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS' weekly newsmagazine.

C&EN Senior Business Editor Melody Voith notes that 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. But a growing number of plant biotechnology companies are trying to make plants do more of the manufacturing work. For example, several companies are trying to develop specially-engineered plants, such as switchgrass and corn, that make it easier and faster for manufacturers to produce biofuels. The development could potentially lower the cost of renewable fuels, the article notes.

But producing chemical factories from plants will involve challenges. Farmers will need to gamble on new, risky crops planted over large areas. It's also unclear how processors will collect and efficiently transport these plant products. In the meantime, research and development of new plant traits is moving at a brisk pace in several biotech labs, the article notes.

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