Plants have the ability to capture solar energy and use carbon dioxide and water to photosynthesise carbohydrate during their growth. Crop plants, therefore, offer an opportunity to establish a sustainable chemical manufacturing system based on plant biomass.
Fossil reserves are finite and the major proven reserves of oil and gas are located in politically unstable environments, whilst new oil findings are increasingly being located in difficult-to-reach places. Issues relating to security and cost of supply will become increasingly important to future chemical markets dependent upon petrochemical feedstocks.
Sustainable Manufacturing Technologies
The move towards a bio-based society using renewable feedstocks from agriculture, forestry and aquatic resources will be important to develop sustainable manufacturing technologies in the coming century.
Biofuels and Bioproducts
The use of plant biomass as a feedstock holds significant potential in the emerging renewable chemical industry. Conversion of plant-based raw materials via fermentation or microbiological routes can be used to generate bioproducts such as ethanol, butanol, lactic acid, succinic acid and propanediol.
Thermochemical technologies are also available for the conversion of biomass to syngas (mainly CO and H2), which can then be catalytically converted to larger, more useful liquid hydrocarbons - more than 200 fuel and chemical products can be produced from syngas.
Lignin contained in plant biomass also represents a potential feedstock for aromatic chemicals production.
Previous analyses published by the BREW project, under the European Commission GROW's programme, and the US Department for Energy (DoE) have identified a short-list of platform chemicals derived from biomass with potential in the chemical and material industries:
Examples of UK activities:
- Integrated Biorefining Research and Technology Club (IBTI Club)
- Synthetic Plant Products for Industry NETwork (SPPI-NET)
Industrial Biotechnology Innovation and Growth Team (IB IGT)
- The final report and recommendations from IB IGT .
- The Government response to this report, entitled " IB 2025: Maximising UK Opportunities from Industrial Biotechnology in a Low Carbon Economy".
KTN's Plant Sector has developed a series of publications to highlight the economic benefit of research and development to the agriculture and food industry.