Sunday, April 20, 2008

Reducing Petroleum Demand: Synthetic Biology and Bio-Plastics

Craig Venter claims that his synthetic biology venture may produce an artificial bio-energy factory as early as the next few years. The overall field of synthetic biology is certainly capable of attracting top talent and financing.
Researchers will gather in London this week to outline plans to promote one of the most audacious, and controversial, scientific ideas of the 21st century - synthetic biology.

The new discipline, established by scientists such as human genome pioneer Craig Venter, involves stripping microbes down to their basic genetic constituents so they can be reassembled and manipulated to create new life forms. These organisms can then be exploited to manufacture drugs and fuels or to act as bio-sensors inside the body.

...The crucial point, said Holliger, who will be speaking at this week's conference, Engineering Life, is that 'scientists are now learning how to design life down to the last letter. We don't know enough to be sophisticated as yet but our knowledge is increasing all the time.'

Most scientists working on synthetic biology projects - including Holliger - say that their research is safe and stress its potential benefits. 'Synthetic biology represents a new approach to engineering,' said Professor Richard Kitney of Imperial College London, another speaker at the meeting, which will debate the risks and ethics of synthetic biology. 'It has brought us to the cusp of a new industrial revolution in which new fuels, drugs, medical treatments and sensors can be created from biological materials.'

One idea is the creation of organisms that could soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into hydrocarbon biofuels. __Source
Yep. Of course, once you tame the little beasties, you can pretty much get them to make anything you want. ;-)

The bio-plastics industry provides another way to reduce demand for petroleum--the primary feedstock for plastics.
Bioplastics are biodegradable and can be made from a wide range of different plants. In the future genetically modified plants will need less water and reduce the costs. Bioplastics has the potential to reduce the petroleum consumption for plastic by 15 to 20 percent in 2025. Improved technical properties and innovations open new markets and applications with higher profit potentials in automotive, medicine and electronics. ___Source
Biology provides many approaches to reducing demand for petroleum--thus easing some of the pressures on worldwide petroleum prices and food prices. Biomass CHP, cellulosic electricity, cellulosic alcohol fuels, biomass to liquid fuels (BTL), bio-oils, bio-diesel, and waste to energy, among many approaches currently being explored.

An enlightened society would welcome all these approaches to reducing food and fuel costs, rather than scapegoating the entire bio-energy industry.

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