A multidisciplinary team has been working for several years to develop a game-changing plastic that, unlike traditional plastics, can be recycled indefinitely and is not made from petroleum. In this Q&A, we asked two project leaders about the inspiration for the unique plastic, shortfalls in our current recycling systems, and how this ambitious project is enabled by a diverse combination of scientific expertise.
Scientists from Berkeley Lab and Sandia National Laboratories have collaborated to develop a streamlined and efficient process for converting woody plant matter like forest overgrowth and agricultural waste – material that is currently burned either intentionally or unintentionally – into liquid biofuel.
Converting the tough fibers and complex sugars in plants into biofuels and other products could be humanity’s ticket to smarter materials, better medicines, and a petroleum-free, sustainable future. Hoping to discover new and improved ways of processing plant material for industrial purposes, scientists like Michelle O’Malley at UC Santa Barbara and the Joint BioEnergy Institute have been studying the gut microbiomes of the planet’s most prolific herbivores: ruminant animals such as goats.
Berkeley Lab researchers have achieved unprecedented success in modifying a microbe to efficiently produce a compound of interest using a computational model and CRISPR-based gene editing. Their approach could dramatically speed up the research and development phase for new biomanufacturing processes, getting advanced bio-based products, such as sustainable fuels and plastic alternatives, on the shelves faster.
Plants can produce a wide range of molecules, many of which help them fight off harmful pests and pathogens. Biologists have harnessed this ability to produce many molecules important for human health — aspirin and the antimalarial drug artemisinin, for example, are derived from plants. Now, scientists at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) are using
Researchers at Berkeley Lab have transformed lignin, a waste product of the paper industry, into a precursor for a useful chemical with a wide range of potential applications. Lignin is a complex material found in plant cell walls that is notoriously difficult to break down and turn into something useful. Typically, lignin is burned for
If you’ve eaten vegan burgers that taste like meat or used synthetic collagen in your beauty routine – both products that are “grown” in the lab – then you’ve benefited from synthetic biology. It’s a field rife with potential, as it allows scientists to design biological systems to specification, such as engineering a microbe to produce a cancer-fighting agent. Yet conventional methods of bioengineering are slow and laborious, with trial and error being the main approach.
One strategy to make biofuels more competitive is to make plants do some of the work themselves. Scientists can engineer plants to produce valuable chemical compounds, or bioproducts, as they grow. Then the bioproducts can be extracted from the plant and the remaining plant material can be converted into fuel. But one important part of this strategy has remained unclear — exactly how much of a particular bioproduct would plants need to make in order to make the process economically feasible?
As the need for energy security grows, scientists are investigating nonfood biomass sources that can be used to create valuable biofuels and bioproducts. Among these sources is municipal solid waste (MSW) — in other words, trash that’s produced every day around the world in significant amounts.
The Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology (iCLEM) – an immersive summer science program hosted by the Joint BioEnergy Institute – has an impressive track record of helping socioeconomically disadvantaged high schoolers pursue college education. Hoping to share the secret sauce of their instructional model, a group of former and current scientific advisors have now published the iCLEM curriculum.